Phillies full of questions
New Philadelphia manager Larry Bowa has said his team’s three biggest questions to be answered this spring are:
1. Who is our leadoff hitter?
2. Who is our Opening Day starter?
3. Who is our closer?
Hey, other than that, things are pretty much set!
Of course, the other kind of important question might be, “Will our slick-fielding third baseman who also just happens to bat cleanup be bothered by chronic back pain all year?”
The leadoff hitter will likely be rookie shortstop Jimmy Rollins. He’s only 5-8 but he’s had a huge bat this spring. Tuesday he went 4-for-5, including a solo home run and a game-winning RBI single in the ninth against Toronto. He’s hitting nearly .400 (.394) in Florida. “Jimmy’s done everything for us,” Bowa said. “He’s just been killing it.”
The Phillies aren’t sure they want to put a rookie into such an important role as leadoff, but Rollins works the count better than the other leadoff candidate, Doug Glanville, who doesn’t really work it at all.
The Opening Day starter will likely be right-hander Robert Person, who was 9-7 last year with an ERA ranked ninth in the NL (3.63), and he looked sharp last Sunday. After walking leadoff batter Shannon Stewart he retired the next 10 batters before allowing a fourth-inning single to Jose Cruz Jr.
The closer, it appears, could be Jose Mesa instead of Ricky Bottalico. Both were free agent acquisitions after the season, and right now Mesa has the inside track.
As for that last question, third baseman Scott Rolen’s back continues to bother him. There’s a “little man” down there, he says, that seems to have a mind of his own; the pain is probably going to be there all season, but it’s something he’ll just have to play through.
The Phillies’ batting order looks about like this (S-switch-hitter; R-righty; L-lefty):
S Rollins SS
R Glanville CF
L Bob Abreu RF
R Rolen 3B
R Mike Lieberthal C
L Travis Lee 1B
R Pat Burrell LF
L Marlon Anderson 2B
That’s a pretty low spot, but one without pressure, in the order for Burrell (pronounced BURL), who has 40-home run power and is expected to have a big year, but Bowa already has righties Rolen and Lieberthal batting in the four and five holes, and wants to break up the righties. So that’s why Lee, who is more of a natural No. 2 hitter, is in the six hole.
Everybody agrees Abreu (pronounced Uh-BRAY-ew), at 26, is primed for a monster season. He batted .316 with 25 homers, 79 RBI and 28 steals last year.
UNDER THE RADAR: If you’re looking for another potential breakout candidate this season, consider Kansas City outfielder Mark Quinn.
As a rookie last year Quinn got off to a shaky start, and the Royals sent him to Triple-A Omaha briefly in June. But when center fielder Carlos Beltran missed nearly all of July with a deep bone bruise, the club moved Johnny Damon from left field to center, leaving left to Quinn, where he flourished in the second half of the season. He finished hitting .294 with 20 homers, 78 RBI and a slugging percentage of .488. He did all this in just 128 starts (76 in left, 48 as the designated hitter).
Now Damon is gone (traded to Oakland as part of a three-team deal), and Quinn is the favorite to start full-time in left. Given time, Quinn, 26, has a shot to put up big numbers. “He is a surprising young hitter with a lot of upside potential,” says this year’s Stats, Inc. Scouting Notebook. “Should he learn a little plate discipline, Quinn could contend for a batting title.”
He’s not ready for that title quite yet, but then again, in the spring, these games don’t count. “Spring training is like a guitar that’s out of tune,” he said Sunday afternoon. “You have to work out the kinks and get everything going the right way.”
Quinn is a big fan of classic rock and plays the guitar in his free time, hence the guitar analogy, but he probably doesn’t even know who the Kinks are; he’s a Metallica, Pearl Jam and Creed kind of guy.
“I got to hang out with the guys from Creed (this offseason),” he said, his eyes lighting up. “The guitarist, Mark Tremonti, is a big baseball fan.”
Right-hander Jason Grimsley knew Tremonti and got Quinn backstage passes to a show. Afterward, they went to lead singer Scott Stapp’s apartment, where Quinn, who plays guitar in his free time, experienced something he said he’ll never forget.
“The guys sat in the living room and played an acoustic set,” he said. “It was the coolest thing I have ever seen in my life. To see the way (Mark) plays the guitar … I was in amazement.”
Right now, Quinn is just a regular California-kind of guy who gets a kick out of hanging with rock stars. When it’s time to sign the big contract a hitter of his ability will likely command, he said he’d like to build a home in San Diego. “A place to let my body heal from the season,” he said. “I want to design my own house instead of buying an existing one. I have a friend who’s an architect and he’s going to help me out. I want to build right on the coast in La Jolla. I want my backyard to be the beach. I’d like a sound room with guitars and a drum kit, so I can go in there and make a lot of noise and not bother anybody. And a movie theater. It’s got to have a movie theater. There’s nothing better than going to a nice, cool movie theater in the summertime with some popcorn and a big bottle of water. And maybe some Sour Patch Kids (candy).”
If Beltran can bounce back to his 1999 form, the Royals could have one of the best outfields in baseball with Quinn, Beltran and All-Star Gold Glover Jermaine Dye in right.
Put those guys together with hitters like first baseman Mike Sweeney, second baseman Carlos Febles and third baseman Joe Randa, and you have a strong lineup — one in which Quinn will be well-protected.
Now if the Royals can just get ace starter Jose Rosado healthy …
CHATTER: Last week we talked about Houston right-hander Jose Lima’s new pitch, the two-seam fastball. It seems the pitch still needs some work; last Saturday night, against Cleveland in Venezuela, Lima gave up three home runs and six hits in four innings. Jim Thome, Russell Branyan and Juan Gonzalez hit the homers …
An older gentleman came into the Baseball City Stadium media dining room with an entourage, smiling a 1,000-watt smile and shaking hands with anybody within 10 feet of him. “There goes the most popular man in Kansas City,” said a writer covering the Royals. The man was Buck O’Neil …
Some say Eric Karros is so underrated that now he’s overrated, but very few players are as consistent and productive. For anybody who’s been burned playing fantasy baseball, being able to count on a guy like Karros makes him a rare commodity. He has hit 30 homers and driven in 100 runs five times in the last six seasons. The lone anomaly was 1998, when he hit “only” 23 homers with 87 RBI — and he had an excuse. He missed the first 21 games of the season recovering from arthroscopic knee surgery. See, even then, he was probably a bargain because people likely shied away from him at the draft …
Spring training is a time when young ballplayers hope to achieve their dream of making the major leagues. For many of those players, the quest is made doubly hard because they’re still learning English. It’s a factor many Americans take for granted. When longtime major leaguer Jose Cardenal first came up with the San Francisco, about the only English words he knew were “ham and eggs,” because, he says, “I wanted to be able to eat.” So that’s what he ordered every morning for breakfast. And lunch. And, yes, even dinner. “That’s all I ate for a month,” he said. Finally he grew so sick of ham and eggs, he tried to order something else. He tried to pronounce what was on the menu but the waitress didn’t understand him. He tried again to no avail. Finally he threw up his hands. “Just give me ham and eggs,” he said.