COMMENTARY| The profane tirade that Cincinnati Reds' second baseman Brandon Phillips launched against Cincinnati Enquirer beat writer C. Trent Rosencrans was one of the nastier ones levied by a professional athlete against a sports reporter in recent memory. The vitriol that Phillips spewed at Rosencrans on camera in front of Reds manager Dusty Baker came after Rosencrans tweeted fighting words about switching Phillips from cleanup in the Reds' batting order to second.
Well, maybe the tweet about Phillips having a lower on-base percentage than the hitter he was replacing in the two-hole -- Todd Frazier -- didn't exactly qualify as fighting words, but the implication that Phillips was a substandard second hitter clearly set him off.
Switching From Cleanup to Second
Now that some time has passed since the comments and Phillips has batted second for a sampling of games, it seems that the outburst has actually sparked Phillips at the plate to the point that if the Reds are going to repeat as NL Central division winners, it will be Phillips who will still carry the Reds more than any other player on the team.
Phillips was the original two-hole hitter to start the Reds' season, but his time there lasted all of one game due to the opening day injury to left-fielder Ryan Ludwick. Phillips took Ludwick's place at cleanup and responded as well as anyone could have expected by knocking in nearly 100 runs, which had him ranked second among NL run producers prior to his switch from cleanup to second.
Phillips' RBI production will most likely drop batting second, but his bat in the lineup will remain vital if the lineup that was envisioned at the beginning of the season with Phillips sandwiched between leadoff hitter Shin-Soo Choo and Joey Votto is going to be potent enough to bury teams early and come from behind late.
Scoring More Runs
The early returns from the switch demonstrate the value of having Phillips hit second. In his first five games in the two-hole, Phillips posted an on-base percentage of .461 with eight hits in 20 at-bats. He also managed to drive in four runs in the five games, scored seven runs and made a bid to hit for the first cycle in Reds' history since Eric Davis did it in 1989.
Phillips' OBP won't remain this high, but his contact rate will remain reliable. Among the six Reds' position players who have more than 500 plate appearances, Phillips has the fewest strikeouts. His ability to put the ball in play alone will give the Reds a better hit-and-run option from the two-hole than the team has had all season, but his overall ability to hit the ball hard to all fields will continue to be the driving factor behind an offense that has to erupt as emphatically at the plate as Phillips erupted over Rosencrans' remarks in order for the Reds to claim their third division title in four years.
Rotation Running Into Problems
The increased offensive production couldn't come at a better time because the Reds are going to need to score more runs to offset a fizzling rotation. Back-end starters Bronson Arroyo and Mike Leake have hit the wall after pitching on career-best arcs until recently. Arroyo has a 6.48 over his last three starts and hasn't survived four full innings in two of his last six starts. The damage has been even worse for Leake, who was shelled in August with a 6.44 ERA in five starts and started off September just as bad by giving up six earned runs in less than five innings in his first start of the month.
Phillips can only do so much, but his infusion of energy and pop will go a long way to overcome some of the Reds' pitching problems, especially if he continues to play angry.
Robb Hoff has worked as a freelance researcher for ESPN's production and news departments for the past five years. You can read his articles about the 2012 Reds' season here.
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