The Phillies reached the quarter point of the season — Game No. 40 — on Tuesday night. Manager Pete Mackanin marked the occasion by using his sixth different cleanup hitter.
Tommy Joseph got the call in just his third big-league game.
Why would Mackanin use a player with just six at-bats (three of which were strikeouts) in the cleanup spot?
“Why not?” Mackanin said with a chuckle before the game.
Less than one turn through the batting order, Joseph made Mackanin look prescient when he smacked his first big-league home run, a bullet off the netting on the left-field foul pole, to give the Phillies a 1-0 lead over the Miami Marlins.
The Phillies eventually won, 3-1, and Joseph contributed three hits (see story).
The decision to use Joseph in the cleanup spot was actually the result of Mackanin’s reaching the try-anything point in his bid to coax more runs from his feeble offense. The Phillies entered Tuesday night averaging just 3.31 runs per game, second-worst in the majors.
Phillies cleanup hitters were hitting just .190 with a .347 slugging percentage and a .589 OPS, all major-league lows. Cleanup isn’t the only problem spot in the Phillies’ lineup, but it came into focus with Joseph becoming just the second Phillie since 1957 to hit cleanup in his third big-league game. The other was Pat Burrell.
Joseph was in the lineup because the Phillies were facing a lefty in Wei-Yin Chen and primary cleanup man Ryan Howard sits in those situations. (Howard will return to the lineup Wednesday.) At the time of his promotion last week, Joseph was leading the International League in hitting (.347) and OPS (.981) and was second in slugging (.611) and fifth in extra-base hits (13).
So he became the cleanup man du jour.
“Yeah, it's frustrating,” said Mackanin, referring before the game to the offense as a whole. “I don't want to hit Tommy Joseph fourth. I don't want to do that. But in this case, against a left-handed pitcher, I kind of just said, 'Why not?'"
Mackanin went on to say before the game that the team needed more offense from a number of guys. He mentioned Howard, Maikel Franco, Freddy Galvis, Cesar Hernandez, Peter Bourjos — just about everybody not named Odubel Herrera. Mackanin mentioned Cody Asche, who is rehabbing an oblique injury in Clearwater, and said, “Any time along the way if we feel he's ready to help us he'll be up here. It could be a week, two weeks or something like that.”
After 40 games, the Phillies are in an interesting spot. They are clearly a rebuilding team gearing for the future, but in the present are six games over .500. Though it’s too early to call the team a contender, it’s not too early to wonder what will happen if this pitching-fueled club finds itself within striking distance of a postseason spot at the July trade deadline.
Might GM Matt Klentak look to acquire a bat?
“There will be nobody happier than me if we are still in playoff contention in July, and if that happens we’re going to do everything we can to help this team improve and get better and make a run at it,” Klentak told CSNPhilly.com Tuesday.
“The job of a general manager is to balance both the short and the long term and I need be cognizant that right now we’re not even a quarter of the way through the season.”
So, basically, it sounds as if Klentak would consider trading for a bat as long as it doesn’t compromise the team’s rebuilding effort.
There are moves Klentak could make to improve the offense now. He reportedly put a claim in for Jimmy Parades who was waived by Baltimore, but Toronto had priority and ended up with the outfielder. He did swap out Darin Ruf for Joseph, the hero of Tuesday night’s win.
“I’m very conscious of the fact that one of the things we’ve talked a lot about is building a culture and an environment,” Klentak said. “We’ve been careful not to turn the roster over too much early because we believe that allowing the players to settle into roles and feel comfortable is going to allow them to play better. So one of the reasons we haven’t turned the roster over more despite some early-season [offensive] struggles by some players is because we’re trying to allow a culture to build. As the season progresses, we are all aware that this is a performance league and to stay here you have to perform, but for now we’re pleased with the performance of the team and also the style of play that Pete is managing on the field.
“We talk about ways to improve all the time, Pete, myself, our scouts, the front office. We talk about ways we can inject some offense into this lineup. We added Tommy Joseph, who had been on a tear in Triple A and had earned his promotion as a way to hopefully inject some life into this offense. There are other players in our system that continue to develop, and at whatever juncture those players are ready to come up and help us that’ll be another option for us.
“We continue to be open-minded towards any types of additions and ways to improve, but right now the success of our team has been built on pitching and defense and we’re going to continue to respect that.”