Phillies' centerfielder battle will come down to wire

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Jim Salisbury
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Anyone want this thing? Phillies’ uninspiring CF derby will go down to wire originally appeared on NBC Sports Philadelphia

The Phillies have played 23 Grapefruit League games and still don’t know who their opening day centerfielder will be.

No one has seized the job.

“Of course, you’d prefer that because it makes our decision easier, but it hasn’t happened yet,” manager Joe Girardi said after Wednesday’s game against the Detroit Tigers in Lakeland, Florida. “There’s a few days left in camp, five more games, and maybe it happens in the next five days.

“But as far as someone just saying, ‘This is mine and the rest of you guys go away.’ I don’t think that’s been the case.”

The absence of a clear frontrunner has allowed Adam Haseley to re-enter the competition after missing significant time with a groin injury that was initially thought to have been serious enough to require a season-opening trip to the injured list. Haseley recovered more quickly than expected and has gotten four at-bats the last two games, including three Wednesday.

Though Haseley hasn't gotten any hits in those at-bats, Girardi has liked what he’s seen.

“Four at-bats and he’s squared up two balls, that’s a pretty good percentage,” Girardi said.

While it’s not out of the question that Haseley could still make the opening day roster, he’d have to be really impressive over the final days of camp to win the centerfield job.

Roman Quinn, who did not play Wednesday, has come on strong in the competition in recent days. He’s hitting .323 (10 for 31) with a .382 on-base percentage, two doubles, a homer, three stolen bases, three walks and 12 strikeouts.

Odubel Herrera seemed to be the leader at the turn, but he’s tailed off recently. He’s 9 for 40 (.225) with a .244 on-base percentage. He had a hit and hit another ball hard in Wednesday's game before striking out in his last two at-bats, both against lefties.

“He’s seen a ton of lefties and that usually makes it more difficult on left-handed hitters,” Girardi said of Herrera. “But I don’t look at his at-bats and say they haven’t been good. I think his at-bats are competitive. He’s had some tough at-bats against left-handers that are pretty good, but I still see his at-bats as being competitive.”

Scott Kingery had a hit, a walk and a strikeout Wednesday. He’s just 5 for 36 (.139) with a .205 on-base percentage and 15 strikeouts.

Kingery has been working to make a swing adjustment and take some of the loft out of his stroke while adopting more of a line-drive, gap-to-gap approach. It’s very difficult to make changes to a swing and compete for a job.

“It comes down to production at our level, that’s what it’s really about,” Girardi said. “I know Scotty has power and I don’t want to take that away, but I also want him to get on base. I think that’s really important because he does have that speed element, take what the defense gives you.

“It really comes down to production in this game. Sometimes that’s a hard, cold fact, but that’s what it is. In the minor leagues, it’s about development. Here, it’s about production, and however he can get on base, that’s what I want him to do.”

Girardi stressed that starting on opening day does not guarantee that player the center field job all season. Consistent production will be required to keep the job.

“There’s not a lot of time, but we’re still in a competition and I still value that it’s a competition,” Girardi said. “We just have to evaluate. We’ll have a long discussion later this week about who we feel are the frontrunners and maybe we’ll play those guys more at the end.

“There’s going to be some guys that are disappointed and I understand that, but you have a chance to change that by going out and performing at the highest level, and, if you do that, you’ll have a chance to impact this team.”

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