Victorino is exhibit Triple A

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The Phillies shouldn't rush Cesar Hernandez into the big leagues without a healthy number of Triple A at-bats. Shane Victorino help makes that case. (Elizabeth Robertson/Staff Photographer)

WITHOUT THE proper cultivation, there would have been no Shane Victorino Love-In last night at Citizens Bank Park.

Victorino returned to the Bank as a Red Sox player, his first return since the Phillies unloaded him to the Dodgers last July. He exited the city with wisdom and grace, purchasing a full-page ad in the Daily News thanking Phillies fans. He returned as graciously:

"How can I not miss this? I thank this organization for helping me grow into the person and player that I am," he said, and allowed for a possible swan song in red pinstripes: "Who knows? When it's all said and done, maybe I'll come back."

Victorino, sidelined by a hamstring injury, arrived at the Bank a few hours before prospect Cesar Hernandez arrived to fill in on the Phillies bench and, perhaps tonight, to start at second base. Victorino arrived about the same time as Domonic Brown, who last night hit his ninth and 10th homers of May. He is 25.

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Victorino teamed with Ryan Howard and Chase Utley to provide the impetus that pushed the Phillies to the National League East title five seasons in a row and to the World Series in 2008 and 2009. All three are examples of why time spent in Triple A is invaluable. Brown just now is outgrowing the organization's mistakes in promoting him too quickly.

Perhaps they won't make the same mistakes with Hernandez.

For now, the Phillies see Hernandez as a stopgap replacement for Michael Young, who will miss at least three games because he is on the bereavement list, and Utley, who will miss at least a few more weeks with an oblique strain.

But Charlie Manuel said that he will play Hernandez, who was 0-for-2 last night after pinch-hitting and staying in the game.

Hernandez, a 23-year-old switch-hitter, has hit .305 with two homers and 18 RBI in 49 games at Triple A Lehigh Valley, where he spent the last 30 games of 2012. Hernandez also has 15 steals, six triples and 24 walks.

If Hernandez starts a couple of games, and if he produces for Manuel's maddeningly inconsistent offense, will he return to Allentown?

He should, on the first bus north.

Likewise, Brown should have been in Triple A for most of 2010 and '11, when he hit a toothless .236 in 91 big-league games. He logged just 245 at-bats in Triple A those seasons.

"That played a big part in him struggling the past couple of years," Manuel said. "You miss Triple A, you miss seeing good breaking stuff from 28-, 29-year-old pitchers. Breaking stuff with control."

Consider what a little extra percolation did for Utley, Howard and Victorino.

Utley played 3 years at UCLA and was 22 when he played a full season of professional baseball, so the number of optimal total minor league at-bats for him should shrink . . . but not Triple A at-bats. After about 1,000 at-bats through 2002 the organization was so enchanted that he became untouchable, but he was blocked from entering the major leagues full time in 2003 and '04.

Utley hit .314 with 24 homers, 34 doubles and a .516 slugging percentage in 146 Triple A games in 2003 and '04. In the majors in 2005, at the age of 26, he hit .291 with 28 homers, 105 RBI and a .540 slugging percentage.

Howard was blocked, too, in 2005. Howard blazed through Double A in 2004 and starred at Triple A that year, too. Howard pitched a fit when he was sent back to Triple A in the spring of 2005.

Howard, then 25, proceeded to hit .371 with 16 homers and 54 RBI in 61 games in Triple A. He replaced injured Jim Thome in July and won NL Rookie of the Year.

In the middle of the fourth inning last night, the giant screen in leftfield featured a syrupy montage of Victorino's finest moments as a Phillie, after which he took a bow to a standing ovation.

"That was wonderful," Victorino said later.

It would not have happened if not for his magical 2005.

San Diego snagged Victorino from the Dodgers in the Rule 5 draft in 2003 but spat him back. Victorino had about 1,400 minor league at-bats. The Phillies took him as a Rule 5 pick in 2005, after 800 more minor league at-bats, but they rejected him, too. The Dodgers this time didn't want him back, so the Phillies stashed him in Triple A.

There, Victorino logged 494 at-bats and was the International League MVP. He combined to hit .284 in 2006 and '07, then won three Gold Gloves and went to two All-Star Games in the next 4 years . . . and, of course, two World Series.

"That was huge for me," Victorino said of 2005.

Certainly, the Phillies will learn from their mistakes. Certainly, the Phillies won't rush another promising prospect for the short-term, win-now benefit.

Utility infielder Freddy Galvis has hit .228 in 281 major league at-bats over the past two seasons.

Galvis has fewer than 2,000 minor league at-bats.

He has 121 at-bats in Triple A.

 


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