There once was a time that the Phillies line-up swung so far left you showed up at the ballpark expecting to wade through a Tea Party protest.
So yeah, Laynce Nix is batting fifth tonight. The way Charlie Manuel sees it, he doesn't have a better option, particularly when you consider the pitcher that the Phillies will be facing.
Jeff Karstens is coming off the best season of his four full years in the majors, a 26-start campaign in which he posted a 3.38 ERA while averaging 5.3 strikeouts and 1.8 walks per nine innings. One of the big reasons for his solid showing was a groundball ratio that improved from a below-major-league-average 0.66 over the previous three seasons to an above average .90. The 29-year-old righthander also improved his performance against left-handed hitters, although that side of the plate continues to give him trouble.
Lefties hit .288 with a .346 on base percentage and .470 slugging percentage against him in 2011, compared with a career line of .300/.361/.502. He allowed 12 home runs and 23 walks with 38 strikeouts in 310 plate appearances against lefties, compared with 10 home runs, 10 walks and 58 strikeouts against in 358 plate appearances against righties.
Opposing righties hit just .242/.263/.378 against him.
But we all know the story with Chase Utley and Ryan Howard, and Raul Ibanez is now in New York, where he hit a three-run home run off of James Shields on Opening Day.
So if you are looking for left-handed power, well, Nix is about it.
"That's one reason why I put Nix in the game tonight," Manuel said. "I wanted a left-handed hitter to separate Pence and Mayberry. Our little guys can hit a home run every now and then. But it's got to be the right situation, right pitch -- everything's got to be right."
Manuel said he thought about playing Jim Thome at first base, but instead opted to go with Nix, whose only six starts at first base came last year for the Nationals. Clearly, Manuel wanted to keep Mayberry's glove in left field, where on Thursday he made two nice catches that saved at least one run.
Nix has posted an OPS over .780 against righties in each of his last three seasons.
Karstens is not a hard thrower -- his fastball averaged about 89 miles per hour last season, according to FanGraphs.com's Pitch fX data -- but he does throw four pitches regularly: a slider, a curveball and a change-up. Pitchers in that mold have given the Phillies some trouble in the base. In fact, Karstens gave them trouble last season, holding them to three runs or less in seven innings in both of his starts.
In early June at PNC Park, Karstens held the Phillies to one run on four hits with no walks and two strikeouts in seven innings of a 2-1 loss. Then, on July 31 at Citizens Bank Park, he allowed three runs on seven hits with two walks and five strikeouts in seven innings.
-Hunter Pence has plenty of experience against Karstens dating back to his time in the NL Central. In his career, he is 8-for-21 with a double, a home run, a walk and a strikeout against the righty.
-Jimmy Rollins is 6-for-13 with a double against Karstens.
-Shane Victorino is 1-for-11 with a double.
-Nix is 1-for-3 with a strikeout against Karstens.
-Karstens is not a swing-and-miss guy -- 12 percent of his strikes were whiffs in 2011, which is below MLB average -- but he is a strike thrower who gets ahead in the count and work efficiently.
The Pirates' line-up against Cliff Lee tonight:
- Jose Tabata RF
- Alex Presley LF
- Andrew McCutchen CF
- Casey Mcgehee 3B
- Matt Hague 1B
- Neil Walker 2B
- Rod Barajas C
- Clint Barmes SS
- Jeff Karstens RHP