Victorino says it'll be an adjustment to batting 7th
By Andy Martino
The Philadelphia Inquirer
CLEARWATER, Fla. — An hour after the Phillies boarded a bus Monday morning to a game against the New York Yankees in Tampa, Shane Victorino roamed the outfield during a sparsely populated batting practice session at Bright House Field. It was likely his final day as a temporary outsider. Tuesday night, Victorino is scheduled to see his first game action of 2010, after missing the first six exhibitions with a sore right shoulder.
He will bat second against the Atlanta Braves, a rare treat for Victorino after the Phillies signed third baseman Placido Polanco, who will usually hit in that spot this season. The team believes that Polanco’s high contact rate makes him an ideal No. 2 hitter.
“It is what it is,” Victorino, 29, told The Inquirer when asked if he was OK with the move. “It’s going to be a year of adjustments for me. ... I’ve (batted second) the last two years; why would I want to change? But you’ve got to look at the big picture. It’ll definitely be a different dynamic in the lineup.”
Victorino expects to see fewer fastballs in the new position, the consequence of having less frightening hitters directly behind him.
“When I’m hitting second, I’ve got Chase (Utley), Ryan (Howard) and the rest of the guys behind me, so of course (pitchers) are going to go after me,” he said. “Now I’m hitting seventh, I’ve got Carlos (Ruiz) and the pitcher behind me. So am I going to be pitched differently? Am I going to get a lot of breaking balls? So that’s all going to come into play. I’m going to have to adjust as we go.”
The centerfielder envisions scenarios in which opposing pitchers would not risk throwing him strikes. “Late in the game, if I’m the pitcher, and there’s a guy at second, one out, me up, open base at first? Who are you going to go after? Most likely you’re going to go after Carlos, and then the pitcher. ... Those are the things that come into play, and that’s the adjustment that I’m going to have to make. But I’m ready. Whatever.”
Though Victorino’s .358 on-base percentage last year was respectable, he said that taking pitches was not his favorite activity. He prefers to swing at fastballs, and enjoyed many opportunities to do so while hitting second.
“That’s something I’ve got to work on,” he said of taking pitches. “I like to hit. My on-base percentage wasn’t bad, but again, I like to hit. I like to put the ball into play. I don’t like to strike out much.”
Victorino does see several advantages to the change. A No. 2 hitter must worry about moving runners from one base to another by hitting the ball to a particular location in the field. He rarely hits with multiple runners on base, and because of the power hitters behind him, he often doesn’t attempt to steal in order to avoid making a pointless out.
“The other aspect is I can swing freely,” Victorino said. “I don’t have to worry about moving the runner over. That’s the positive side: I can go up there and just swing. . . . Also you’ll be in a lot more RBI situations. There are pluses and negatives. In this game, home runs and RBIs drive your value. There are also going to be situations when I can run more, a little more freely.”
Contemplating those changes was just one of many activities for Victorino during a busy off-season. In addition to signing a three-year, $22 million contract and dabbling in a clothing line, he married Melissa, his girlfriend of six years and mother of his 2-year-old daughter, Kali’a. Melissa also has a 14-year-old son, Keenan, who lives with the family.
“There was definitely a lot going on,” he said. “But everything was a positive. You come to a point where you understand that this is the girl you wanted to spend the rest of your life with. Becoming a father, that’s another part, even though that was three years ago for me. You can always have a bad game, you’re frustrated, and you come home and see that smile on your child’s face, and it makes your day.”
The contract made him feel more sanguine about the batting order change. The Phillies must value him, he figured, if they were willing to commit that money.
“That made it so when I was moved down, it wasn’t like, all of a sudden, ’Shane isn’t the guy they want here,’ “ he said. “Individually, you want to achieve your goals, but ultimately it’s about this team. We’re hungry, we’re anxious, we’re ready to get out there.”
Now that his shoulder — sore, he believes, from playing catch too early, too often — is healed enough to play, Victorino is set to rejoin that group, his role in flux but his job and life more secure than ever before.