CLEARWATER, Fla. - John Mayberry Jr.'s home run in the first inning yesterday bounced off the roof of the tiki bar in the deepest area of left field. As Mayberry rounded the bases, the public address system blared the theme from The Natural, and nearly everyone in the sellout crowd of 9,681 stood and cheered as he rounded the bases.
It has been that kind of spring for Mayberry, whose performance has argued persuasively for roster consideration. After four inconsistent years in the Rangers' organization, Mayberry has made adjustments with the Phillies that he believes will make him a major-league hitter.
"Charlie [Manuel] and [hitting coach] Milt Thompson made some suggestions about my swing," he said. "Basically they told me to keep my head more still, and have less movement in the swing - to make it quieter and simpler, so I can make contact more."
Mayberry's power and potential have never been in doubt, but he has yet to reach base consistently in his professional career. A two-time first-round draft choice (by Seattle in 2002 and, after three years at Stanford, by Texas in 2005), Mayberry hit 82 home runs in the Rangers system, but posted a meager .330 on-base percentage and struck out more than 100 times in each of the last three years.
He was traded to the Phillies in November, fully aware that he needed to improve.
"The biggest thing is to become a more consistent hitter," he said. "That will produce a higher batting average and higher on-base."
Mayberry also knows he needs to cut down on strikeouts. "That's definitely a goal," he said. "Don't chase, don't get overanxious. I have expanded the strike zone a little. A power hitter doesn't have to strike out a lot. There are guys in the game who are great home-run hitters who can shorten up and get a base hit when they need to."
Thompson agreed, and is working with Mayberry on that skill.
"A big swing doesn't guarantee a big result," he said. "You have to make contact."
The Phillies have been considering ways to help Mayberry since the trade. Last winter, Thompson and Manuel consulted the 25-year-old's father, former major-leaguer John Mayberry. He told them that his son needed a tighter, more controlled swing.
When camp began last month, the coaches observed their new acquisition and gathered their own impressions. After about a week, Manuel and Thompson noticed two issues that they wished to correct: Mayberry's head moved too much during his swing, and his feet were not parallel in the batter's box.
"He was kind of closed off," Thompson said of the second point, meaning that his front foot was closer to home plate than his back foot. "It's hard to [get in position] to hit the ball that way."
The changes have led to a .292 spring average, and two home runs in eight Grapefruit League games. (He hit a third home run, also deep to left field, in an exhibition against Team Canada on Wednesday.) He was 1 for 3 with the three-run homer in yesterday's 8-2 win over Detroit. If the improvements continue, the Phillies will have to decide if an outfielder such as Matt Stairs or Geoff Jenkins can be moved off the roster to make room for Mayberry.
As a righthanded hitter, Mayberry could provide balance on a lefty-heavy team.
For now, though, the team is content to enjoy Mayberry's Grapefruit League outburst of power.
"Ridiculous," said Ryan Howard of Mayberry's spring hitting spree. "He's going to be a force to reckon with."
Contact staff writer Andy Martino at 215-854-4874 or email@example.com.