Veteran newcomers can step up
Juan Pierre, Laynce Nix, and Ty Wigginton will get their chances.
Who's batting fifth? Who's batting sixth? Who's leading off? Who knows where anyone is batting in manager Charlie Manuel's lineup this season?
If we've learned anything about Manuel during his tenure with the Phillies, it's this: When the manager makes out his lineup card, he's like a horse-racing junkie endlessly trying to find a winning combination.
In a normal year, it's difficult to find the right combination of hitters in the first, fifth, and sixth spots of a batting order. But this is not fixing to be a normal start to the season for Manuel and the Phillies.
Without Chase Utley and Ryan Howard, the manager is missing the third and fourth hitters in his batting order, and naturally there is a trickle-down effect as you go up and down the order.
Since Manuel became manager in 2005, he has used only three players 100 times or more in the fifth and sixth spots during a season. Pat Burrell batted fifth 133 times in 2008, and Jayson Werth batted fifth 135 times in 2010. Raul Ibanez hit sixth 100 times in 2010.
A year ago, Ibanez batted a team-high 43 times in the fifth spot and a team-high 83 times in the sixth spot. Ibanez, of course, is now with the New York Yankees.
Near the end of spring training, Manuel stared at his lineup card in the Phillies clubhouse at Bright House Field. A reporter noted the manager had come up with a new combination with opening day closing in.
"Going to make it interesting," Manuel said.
Juan Pierre, who had been told he would be part of the opening-day roster the day before, was batting first in that lineup and Jimmy Rollins was batting third. Hunter Pence batted fifth and Placido Polanco sixth. The next day, Ty Wigginton hit fifth and John Mayberry Jr. batted sixth.
Anything is possible, so the players must check the lineup every day.
The absence of Utley and Howard has created a lot of anxiety about an offense that appeared to be in decline even before the heart of the order went missing. But it also has created opportunity.
Look back at Manuel's early lineups as the Phillies manager and you'll find that Howard was used most often as a sixth hitter when he won the National League rookie of the year award in 2005 and almost as much as a fifth hitter (62 times) as a fourth hitter (76 times) when he was named MVP the following year.
Utley and Werth were also down in the batting order when they first got an opportunity to play. The more they produced, the further they moved up in Manuel's order.
At some point this season, it would not be surprising to find Domonic Brown back up from the minor leagues and batting sixth in the order. For now, however, there should be opportunities in the fifth and sixth spots for newcomers such as Wigginton, 34, and Laynce Nix, a pair of veterans with power.
"I think for guys like me and some other guys, this is a chance to really step in and fill in some gaps," Nix said.
"These guys have been fixtures in the lineup in the three and four spots and they're MVP candidates," said Wigginton, in his 11th big-league season.
Contact Bob Brookover at email@example.com or @brookob on Twitter.