CLEARWATER, Fla. — There’s one certainty in the Philadelphia Phillies’ lineup: Ryan Howard will bat cleanup as usual.
Manager Charlie Manuel has plans to try various batting orders in the final 10 days of spring training, including moving Jimmy Rollins out of his customary leadoff spot. Of course, the lineup probably will change numerous times after the real games begin.
At least Manuel is sure about Howard hitting fourth. The 2006 NL MVP has been a fixture in that spot throughout his career.
“Howard is the only guy in our lineup capable of knocking in 130-150 runs,” Manuel said.
Chase Utley will bat in his usual spot ahead of Howard most of the time except when Manuel wants to break up his string of left-handed hitters. He’s got at least four lefties in the starting lineup: Howard, Utley, Domonic Brown and Ben Revere.
“We’re not going to line up all of those left-handed hitters because when the season starts, we’ll see better left-handed pitching,” Manuel said. “They’re going to save those left-handed pitchers for us. I don’t think we can afford to hang four or five lefties in a row.”
Utley could bat second against some lefties with Michael Young moving into the three-hole. Young can hit anywhere from second to sixth, depending on who is in the lineup on a given day. He’ll likely start the season fifth to protect Howard until Delmon Young is ready to play. Young is recovering from ankle surgery and could be back by mid-April.
“Michael Young is going to be a real good player for us,” Manuel said. “Not only is he going to hit, he will hit for a high average and he will show some power in the National League. He has a chance to hit more homers than people think.”
Young batted cleanup behind Josh Hamilton in 89 games with Texas in 2011 when he had career highs in average (.338) and RBIs (106) along with 11 homers. He hit mostly fifth and sixth last year when he slumped to .277, 8, 67.
“I’m comfortable anywhere in the lineup,” Young said. “It doesn’t change the way I hit. Just have to have the same approach, know the situation on the scoreboard and who is pitching.”
As for Rollins, there’s plenty of debate about him hitting first. Critics have argued for years that Rollins doesn’t get on base enough. He had a .316 on-base percentage last year and it’s also .316 over the past four seasons.
The speedy Revere is the other leadoff option. His on-base percentage with Minnesota last year was .333, but his career OBP in three seasons is .319.
Rollins may not be the prototypical leadoff hitter. But, he’s had his best success in that spot, feels comfortable there and his run production is far better than most leadoff hitters. Rollins has averaged 19 homers and 69 RBIs per year since 2006. He had 30 homers and 94 RBIs during his MVP season in 2007, and has hit at least 20 homers four times with three seasons of more than 75 RBIs.
Those are huge numbers from a leadoff guy.
“People don’t understand Jimmy Rollins knocks in 75-90 runs in the leadoff spot,” Manuel said. “Jimmy so far in his career produces more runs in the leadoff hole than Ben.”
That said, Manuel will try flip-flopping the two players in the order to avoid having three lefties — Revere, Utley, Howard — in a row.
“If I was to hit Jimmy second, he’d break it up,” Manuel said. “But I’m leery of that.”
Revere hasn’t homered in 1,064 career plate appearances and has a .323 slugging percentage compared to .432 for Rollins. Manuel likes Rollins first because he can come up with two outs and a runner on first base and hit an RBI double or two-run homer.
Revere is less likely to do so. He’s similar in many ways to the guy he replaced in center field — Shane Victorino — except for power.
“Ben’s a better offensive player than I thought he was,” Manuel said. “He can run, he can bunt better than Vic. He doesn’t have the pop Victorino had but he’s faster than Victorino. He’s going to pop some every now and then. He’s hard as a rock. Ben will play within himself more and he will be a big-time team player. He brings a lot of energy like when Vic first came on the scene. He will add life and energy like that. Victorino was good at that. Ben is definitely going to help us.”
Once Young returns and Carlos Ruiz completes his 25-game suspension, the Phillies have potential to be a much-improved offensive team. Ruiz, once a staple in the No. 8 spot, had his best season last year — .325, 16, 68. He even batted fourth when Howard was out and fifth at times.
“If he hit (at eighth) for us, we would have a big-time offense,” Manuel said.
Brown could bat anywhere from fifth to seventh. He’s having an excellent spring and gives the Phillies some power lower in the order. The left fielder, whether it’s Darin Ruf, Laynce Nix or John Mayberry Jr., will probably bat between sixth or seventh.
“Once we have Delmon Young and Ruiz, we can have better balance across the lineup,” Manuel said.