CLEARWATER, Fla. - The baseball bounced off home plate and hopped three times down the first-base line. Ben Revere crouched and followed the ball's path.
"Hey, hey, hey," he hollered after ending his first hitting session of Monday morning with a perfect bunt.
The Phillies' leadoff hitter finished last season with career bests in batting average, hits, and stolen bases. He is working this spring on his ability to bunt for hits, which could result in spikes of all three statistics.
Manager Ryne Sandberg said he wants Revere to bunt for 10 to 15 hits this season. The centerfielder has a chance to be a spark plug and catalyst, Sandberg said.
"Just having that is going to put more pressure on the defense," Revere said. "Are we going to come up or are we going to stay back? Because I can slap a line drive right by them that could be for a base hit or a double. The infield won't know what to do."
Revere will bat leadoff Tuesday when the Phillies open Grapefruit League play against the New York Yankees at Bright House Field. In 123 games in the leadoff spot, Revere's batting average (.313) and on-base percentage (.332) were each seven points higher than his season averages.
He walked a career-worst 13 times, which contributed to a career-low .325 on-base percentage.
Revere's played last season with surgical screws in his right ankle. Revere's ankle was in pain "from beginning to end," he said. It would throb each morning, even worse after a game in which he slid into a base or dove after a ball.
"It felt like hell just to get up and walk to the bathroom," Revere said. "It was that bad."
The screws were removed after the season and Revere is now pain free. Doctors told him he was lucky to not have suffered nerve damage. Revere played through the pain last season because that's what he has always done. He comes from a football family, he said.
"It's all about dealing with the pain," Revere said.
Revere, who did not bunt much in high school, said he was hardheaded when the Minnesota Twins told him to work on his bunting after drafting him in the first round in 2007. If he bunted a ball foul, that meant he had one fewer swing against a pitcher. It was tough to see the benefit.
Revere said he had to mature and grow up. Now he says he should never fall into a slump if he can bunt for a hit. He finished a later hitting session Monday by laying down another bunt. The ball whizzed down the third-base line and Revere bolted out of the batting cage.
"That's a good hit," he said, in what he and the Phillies hope becomes a recurrence.