Victorino showing bunt signs for Phillies

Gallery Image 186331 - Kim
Roy Halladay signs his autograph for fans before the Phillies played the Orioles. (Yong Kim / Staff Photographer)

CLEARWATER, Fla. - At first, all Shane Victorino offered was a wink. It was a slow, deliberate, exaggerated wink. Nevertheless, just a wink.

It didn't take much prodding, though, for Victorino to crack. After all, drop two bunts in the fifth Grapefruit League game of the spring, and you are going to attract some attention.

"Charlie talked to me," Victorino said with a smile.

Actually, Charlie Manuel said later, the pregame conversation he had with his speedy centerfielder wasn't the first time he suggested a renewed focus on reaching base via bunt. Hitting coach Greg Gross has also broached the topic.

With Victorino coming off a season in which he posted career lows in batting average (.259) and on-base percentage (.327) even while hitting a career-high 18 home runs, the Phillies feel like dropping the occasional bunt is one way he can reach base with more frequency.

In 2008, when Victorino hit .293 and produced a .352 on-base percentage, he was a perfect 9-for-9 on bunt-single attempts. But in the two seasons since, he has attempted just nine, reaching on two.

When presented with those numbers, Victorino's first reaction was to point to his move down in the batting order. After spending most of 2008 and 2009 hitting second, he moved to No. 7 at the beginning of last season to make room for Placido Polanco.

"Hitting lower in the the lineup, I think it's a lot tougher," Victorino said. "Obviously, batting first or second, you can do it. Hitting seventh, you understand that you have one guy behind you, and then it's the pitcher. If I bunt here, then the pitcher is going to have to face a guy."

Except Victorino never really hit in the bottom of the order last season. At least not consistently. Most of his plate appearances - 386, to be exact - came as a leadoff hitter, where he subbed for the injured Jimmy Rollins. His second-most action came at No. 2. Victorino hit fifth, sixth or seventh in 159 of his 648 plate appearances. He actually spent more time hitting first or second in 2010 (482 plate appearances) than he did in 2008 (436).

It hasn't just been in bunting. In 2008, Victorino finished third in the National League with 36 infield hits. Last season, he finished tied for 23rd with 18.

So why the change?

"His power numbers going up," Manuel said. "He likes to swing. His first thought is swing."

In short, Victorino is one of the prime examples of the Phillies' stated goal of achieving a renewed focus on situational hitting. Getting him to buy into it is the big test.

Sure, the Phillies would be thrilled if he hit 18 home runs again. But only if it doesn't come at the expense of the rest of his game.

"If Vic hits .300, he's going to hit a dozen, maybe even on a good year 20 homers," Manuel said. "He can play the game the right way and get 600 to 700 at-bats and he'll run into some balls, just by having good swings on them."

Case in point: In 2008, Victorino hit 14 home runs in 627 plate appearances. Last year, he hit 18 in 648. Not a huge difference.

Manuel doesn't think it is a coincidence that Victorino hit a career-high .293 the same season he set a career high for bunt attempts.

Reaching base isn't always the primary goal of a bunt.

"He needs to bunt enough just to get the corners up - first baseman, third baseman," Manuel said. "Leading off innings is a good time. It's a good way of hitting. It's an ideal way for him to hit."

Whether Victorino is ready to embrace that philosophy remains to be seen. In the Phillies' 6-5 loss to the Orioles yesterday, he legged out one bunt for a base hit and came a half-step away from reaching on another.

"It's something I have to do more and get used to and practice," he said.

Then again, it's something he has excelled at before.

For more Phillies coverage and opinion, read David Murphy's blog, High Cheese, at www.philly.com/HighCheese. Follow him on Twitter at

http://twitter.com/HighCheese.