Mayberry gets the start at first

John Mayberry Jr. will start at first base today. (David Swanson/Staff Photographer)

Taking grounders during batting practice on Saturday was a taller, slimmer, younger Ryan Howard.

Well, that’s not exactly fair.

One’s a 31-year old slugger whose 74 RBIs led the National League entering Saturday.

The other is a 27-year old, 6-foot-6 outfielder bursting with potential. And since his latest recall to the majors on July 5, he leads the Phillies in doubles (7) and extra base hits (9).

That’s John Mayberry Jr.

Saturday against the Padres, he’s taking his improving bat and growingly dependable glove to first base to fill in for Howard, who is getting the day off and battling a 2-for-22 slump over the past week.

“I feel like I’ve got a little bit of experience over there, [so] I feel pretty comfortable,” Mayberry said.

“It’s definitely a little bit different perspective than the outfield. Obviously, you’re a little bit closer to where the action is. It’s just one of those things where you’ve just got to used to it. Go out there and make the routine play.

During spring training, Mayberry played a little first base, which was the first time he did so since college. And he’s been taking grounders at first base every day he doesn’t start in the outfield.

Since that recall, Mayberry has been frustrating at times — going hitless in three games he started — and brilliant in others, with his three-double, four-RBI game against the Braves on July 10 and his two home run game against the Marlins on July 6. His average has risen to .240 and he’s got five homers and 25 RBI in 146 at-bats, which could be considered about 36 games.

Showing he can play first base and give Howard a rest, as well as play in the outfield, only increases his versatility in the eyes of the coaching staff and front office. He’s certainly making his case to stick around.

“I try not to think about the front office and their decisions too much,” Mayberry said. “Just try and control what I can and hopefully go out there and have good games, have solid at-bats and play solid defense. Then hopefully, I’ll be apart of their permanent plans.”

In his very short career as a first baseman, Mayberry has gone 1 for 7 at the plate with a double and two strikeouts. He’ll face the 23-year old righty, Mat Latos, who has fallen on hard times in 2011 after posting a 2.92 ERA last season. Latos is 5-10 this season, with a 4.02 ERA.

We’ll see how Mayberry does at the plate, in the No. 8 spot in the order, and with the glove at first base.

One reporter asked: Are you going to Wally Pipp Howard today?

“That’s probably far fetched, but I like where your head’s at,” Mayberry Jr. said.

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