Phillies manager Pete Mackanin is doing everything in his power, trying to get slumping rightfielder Michael Saunders going.
An all-star last year with the Toronto Blue Jays who tailed off precipitously in the second half, Saunders was moved down to No. 8 in the Phillies batting order for Monday's game against the Colorado Rockies at Citizens Bank Park. In his previous four games, Saunders was 1 for 12 with a .333 OPS.
Monday was the first time as a Phillie that the 30-year-old Saunders has batted so low in the order, but it isn't a new spot. He had 106 career starts as a No. 8 hitter in his American League career, according to Baseball-reference.com.
Saunders entered the game batting .232 with four home runs, 15 RBIs and a .670 OPS.
Before Monday's game, he had made three starts batting cleanup, 24 hitting fifth, six batting sixth, and one in the seventh spot for the Phillies.
So was Mackanin trying to send Saunders a message or just attempting to take the pressure off him by dropping him so low in the order? It looked like a little bit of both.
"When I move a guy down the lineup to seventh or eighth, it could either help them relax or send them a message that you are hitting seventh or eighth for a reason," Mackanin said before the game. "I like Michael to hit in the middle of the lineup, but he isn't hitting right now."
Saunders took a philosophical approach to his demotion in the lineup.
"It is what it is, I don't make the lineup," he said. "Wherever I am asked to play and hit, I will try to do my job."
Mackanin explained in simple terms why he feels Saunders has struggled.
"He looks like he is missing good pitches to hit for whatever reason," Mackanin said. "He is getting good pitches to hit and he is expanding the strike zone more than he is probably used to."
Even though it's early, Saunders essentially has been struggling since mid-July of last year. In 58 games after the all-star break a year ago, he hit .178 with eight home runs, 15 RBIs, a .638 OPS, and 65 strikeouts in 185 at-bats.
And this year hasn't been much better.
"I understand I am struggling a little bit and haven't gotten off to the start I wanted to," Saunders said. "Understanding it is a long year and I have to stay with my approach and start getting hot here, my numbers will be where I want them to be at the end of the year."
Phillies general manager Matt Klentak agrees with Saunders, who in 82 games before last year's all-star break hit .298 with 25 doubles, 16 home runs, 42 RBIs, and a .923 OPS.
"He can to through spurts like he did in the first half of the season with Toronto and can carry a club for a couple of months," Klentak said. "We haven't really seen that yet."
But Klentak thinks the hot-hitting Saunders will eventually emerge.
"As we see the bat speed he generates, the type of swings he has, his ability to cover ground in the outfield, there is no reason to think that a hot streak isn't coming," Klentak said. "We haven't seen it yet, but hopefully it is coming soon."