PITTSBURGH - Matt Stairs expressed two wishes yesterday, one obvious and the other newsworthy: to break out of an extended slump and return to the Phillies for one more season before retiring.
"I'll play one more year and I'm done," the 17-year veteran, who will turn 42 in February, told The Inquirer. Stairs can be a free agent after this season. "I'd like to be back, but that's a decision for the team. I'm inexpensive, and I don't complain that I don't play a lot."
Assistant general manager Scott Proefrock declined to say if the Phils wanted to re-sign Stairs, saying it was too soon to discuss free agents.
In the immediate future, Stairs would like to be a more productive pinch-hitter for the 2009 Phillies. The lefthanded hitter has gone without a base hit since July 11, and has only two hits since June 28. On that day, Stairs was batting .296; his average dropped to .205 after last night's 0-for-2 effort. He made a rare start in right field.
With the Phils' other lefty pinch-hitter, Greg Dobbs, on the disabled list with a strained right calf, the team needs Stairs to be more productive.
Despite his memorable successes as a pinch-hitter for the Phillies - highlighted by last season's National League Championship Series home run in Los Angeles - both Stairs and manager Charlie Manuel said yesterday that Stairs was still trying to adjust to the role.
"I love pinch-hitting," said Stairs, who has accumulated more than 300 major-league at-bats in every season but one since 1996. This season, he has 83. "But [with limited playing time], it's tough."
Manuel, a former pinch-hitter himself, understands the importance of keeping his bench players fresh. "He's got to have game-situation at-bats," the manager said. "When we got him [last August], he had  at-bats. He was sharp because he had been playing a lot."
Manuel granted Stairs regular playing time during spring training, which Stairs believed helped him for the first half of the season. But after the effect of Grapefruit League play wore off, Stairs said, he has struggled to remain game-ready in a limited role.
One of the small ways he can stay sharp is to work the count in his at-bats. Stairs learned the value of taking pitches while playing for the famously on-base-conscious Oakland Athletics. Despite his plummeting batting average, Stairs had contributed by maintaining a .366 on-base percentage entering the game. (He had a walk last night.)
"I enjoy seeing pitches," he said. "As a guy who doesn't play a whole lot, I don't want to swing at the first pitch."
He added that he felt better in batting practice recently after tweaking his approach. Known for the unique goal of swinging for a home run in every at-bat, Stairs has lately altered that.
"More or less, it's just make contact," he said. "When you're in a slump, you just try and change things."
Hamels pitches tonight
Each Cole Hamels start presents another opportunity for the 25-year-old lefthander to recover his World Series MVP form, and tonight's outing in Pittsburgh is no exception. One of Hamels' major challenges this year has been responding to adversity and remaining calm during difficult games.
Manuel said that he saw progress in that regard in Friday's loss to the Mets in New York. After allowing two runs in the second and two in the third, Hamels pitched two scoreless innings. Manuel wanted to allow the pitcher to continue, but he had to pinch-hit for him in the sixth.
"The other day . . . he did a good job of holding them, and he regrouped," Manuel said.
On the farm
Brett Myers (hip surgery) is scheduled to make a rehabilitation appearance today for double-A Reading, his third. . . . Triple-A outfielder Michael Taylor (strained muscle in his side) was placed on the disabled list. . . . Playing for the Scottsdale Scorpions in the Arizona Fall League will be outfielders Domonic Brown and Steve Susdorf; pitchers Mike Zagurski, Scott Mathieson, Michael Schwimer, and Mike Cisco; infielder Troy Hanzawa; and catcher Tuffy Gosewich. Play will begin Oct. 13.