Time to make good
John Mayberry Jr. must hit as he did last season if he wants to stay in the lineup.
John Mayberry Jr. was a man a lot of people were counting out last year in spring training.
Now, he's a man a lot of people are counting on.
"It just goes to show you what baseball can do for you," Mayberry said. "I think if you're a guy who continues to work hard, perseveres, never gives up, and always remains confident, then good opportunities can arise from it."
Soon after the 2011 season ended, general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. made it clear that Mayberry would be given every chance to replace Raul Ibanez as the regular leftfielder. Even Ibanez, who wanted to remain in Philadelphia before eventually signing with the New York Yankees, agreed that Mayberry deserved that chance.
Mayberry, 28, started 60 games at four positions last season. He played 26 games in center field, 17 in left field, 10 at first base, and seven in right field.
That kind of versatility should keep him in the big leagues for years to come, but only the kind of offensive production he provided in limited playing time last season will allow him to remain an everyday player.
In fact, when Mayberry scuffled through most of spring training, manager Charlie Manuel made it clear that nothing is guaranteed.
"I think time will tell," Manuel said. "I felt like he earned a right to see if he can play every day. He's going to get that chance just like we gave Ben Francisco a chance last year. We gave [Francisco] over 200 at-bats last year. I ain't going to put a number of at-bats on John, but, yeah, John is going to get a chance to play every day."
Where Mayberry plays and where he hits most often remain to be seen. With first baseman Ryan Howard sidelined by Achilles tendon surgery, Mayberry could end up seeing quite a bit of time at that position. He will also spend considerable time in left field. Manuel said Mayberry is the team's best defensive player at both those positions.
"I'll play wherever Charlie puts me," Mayberry said. "It might be a surprise from day to day, but I just have to make sure I'm mentally prepared to do the job."
The hope, especially while the Phillies wait for the return of Howard and second baseman Chase Utley, is that Mayberry can supply some of the team's missing thunder. He will bat fifth some days and sixth others, depending on the opposing pitcher and how he's hitting at a particular point.
"It doesn't matter," Mayberry said. "As long as I'm in the lineup I'll be happy."
Mayberry hit a home run once every 17.8 at-bats last season. Only Howard, at one every 16.9 at-bats, was better. Mayberry's .513 slugging percentage and .854 OPS were both higher than Howard's numbers in those categories.
But Howard has been producing power numbers since 2005. Mayberry did it for a half-season.
"He's got 300-something big-league at-bats, so we don't know what he can do," hitting instructor Greg Gross said. "In his role last year, he did a great job and was very productive. Now, depending on how things shake out, he'll possibly get more at-bats this year. Only those at-bats will tell us what kind of hitter he is going to be. I just want him to build off all the good things he did last year."
Mayberry said he believes he can hit for power, but not if that's what he is trying to do.
"We are definitely cognizant that we are going to have some thunder out of the lineup, but I don't think it does anybody any good to put additional pressure on themselves," he said. "I think you have to stay within yourself and do the things you can to be the player you can be.
"If I'm doing everything right, yeah, I feel like I can drive the ball. But my main focus is to try to be a good hitter and have consistent at-bats in which I hit the ball hard. You have to try to be relaxed. We'll fight and scratch to manufacture runs if we have to, but I feel we have capable guys who will be successful."
Contact Bob Brookover
on Twitter @brookob.