SAN FRANCISCO — The signs must be painfully clear for Ben Francisco.
He has been a Phillie since July 29, 2009, a toss-in on the first Cliff Lee trade who established himself as a productive bench player. And remember when he entered this season as the starting right fielder, the heir apparent to Jayson Werth?
But on Sunday, he could very well find himself in the minors for the first time in three years.
He started four games during the entire month of July. And when Charlie Manuel decided to rest Raul Ibanez on Thursday night, he opted for John Mayberry Jr. in left field over Francisco.
In the last 12 days, Francisco has accrued exactly four at-bats. He is 0 for his last 7. His on-base percentage (.217) is lower than his batting average (.227) in July.
Manuel all but guaranteed the team carrying two backup infielders (Michael Martinez and Wilson Valdez) for the remainder of the season because of the injury history of Placido Polanco, Chase Utley and Jimmy Rollins.
The manager has expressed concern more than a few times about having only 11 pitchers. He can be caught short on some nights and that's not something he is comfortable with. Neither is pitching coach Rich Dubee.
When Roy Oswalt is activated from the disabled list to start Sunday's game, a corresponding roster move is needed. It would not be shocking to see Francisco go. He has an option remaining, which means he need not be exposed to waivers to arrive at triple-A Lehigh Valley.
The demotion would be somewhat temporary. Once rosters expand in September, Francisco would certainly be the first one back in the majors.
Still, it's quite a fall from grace for a player who was provided with every opportunity to show his value. The Phillies exhibited great confidence in the 29-year-old Francisco this winter. He hit .266 with a .793 OPS and four home runs in 107 April plate appearances.
Since then? He's at .185 with a .587 OPS in 144 plate appearances. He has proven, at least for now, that he is nothing more than a fourth or fifth outfielder. Right now, he may not even be that.
Mayberry has played his way into Manuel's favor, and for good reason. He's a better defender who can play all three outfield spots plus first base. He's hitting for more power. He's a threat on the bases.
And for Francisco, a player who thought he was on the precipice of something special — finally, he had a chance — it's a depressing realization.
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