SAN FRANCISCO — This was the place last August where Placido Polanco relented. His body could no longer sustain the abuse of a double sports hernia. He had already spent 25 days on the disabled list with a bad back. He needed more rest.
After another listless Phillies defeat Tuesday, 4-2 at the hands of the Giants, Polanco did not move with trepidation. He ate some dinner, tinkered with a wooden game, and watched video of a lost night.
When asked how he's feeling at the plate, Polanco turned sarcastic. "Great," he said. "Great." At least he can say that seriously about his body.
"I don't know how to explain it," Polanco said. "I don't know what you want me to tell you. You go good, you go bad sometimes."
The Phillies third baseman must answer the questions because it's been almost an entire calendar year since he resembled the steadying presence at the top of Charlie Manuel's lineup. He toted another 0 for 4 into the clubhouse late Tuesday night, dropping his 2012 batting average to .179. Through 11 games, no one will panic. That does not preclude frustration.
"Hey, last year, first month of the season I hit .400," Polanco said. "After that I didn't do anything. Maybe this year it's the opposite."
Polanco batted .398 in 103 at-bats last April. In 469 plate appearances since, including the postseason, Polanco is hitting .231 with a .289 on-base percentage and .271 slugging percentage. He has just 11 extra-base hits during that span; his only one of the 2012 season was a fly ball that accidentally dropped in between two Giants outfielders.
The injuries were an excuse following a robust April. A small sample size is the excuse early in 2012. Yet serious questions about Polanco's viability as an everyday player will persist. With a healthy Ryan Howard and Chase Utley, the Phillies could hide an offensive liability at third base.
It's reasonable, at least, to wonder if Manuel will keep Polanco batting second.
"When go over our lineup, he's always kind of fit there when he's been healthy," Manuel said. "Polly knows he needs to get going. We've played 11 games now. Our guys know what they have to do. We've just not been able to generate enough offense."
What is most alarming is Polanco's rapidly increasing strikeout rate. For years, the infielder was known across baseball as one of the toughest to whiff. He put the ball in play and it was his redeeming quality.
In those 469 plate appearances since last April, Polanco has struck out 48 times, or 10.2 percent of the time. From 1998 to 2010, Polanco struck out in 6.6 percent of his plate appearances.
It could be a byproduct of the many injuries the 36-year-old has endured or less than a season's worth of data. It could also be a sign of slowed bat speed.
"I've just got to keep at it, but I can't really tell you how frustrated I am," Polanco said. "Maybe if this was my first year in the league, I'd go crazy and this or that. But I've been here before. What you do when you go like that is you keep working."
Polanco's defense, which earned him a Gold Glove in 2011, has offset some of the offensive woes. But even that wavered Tuesday and it cost the Phillies a run when he applied a late tag on a stolen-base play.
"I caught the ball and put down the tag," Polanco said. "It was somewhere [on his arm]. I thought he was still far from the bag, so I don't know how to fix that."
Fine, but the Phillies are hoping he has answers at the plate.
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