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Inside the Phillies: Mayberry is proving he belongs

The rightfielder's hot hitting has caught manager Charlie Manuel's attention and approval.

CLEARWATER, Fla. - John Mayberry Jr. arrived here a month ago as sort of an afterthought.

The most anticipated position battle in the Phillies' camp was right field, and Mayberry barely warranted a mention, even though that had been his primary position during the last two seasons at triple-A Lehigh Valley.

The battle, as most people saw it, was between rookie Domonic Brown and veteran Ben Francisco - with a platoon as the most likely solution.

At best, it seemed as if Mayberry was fighting for a roster spot as an extra man who rarely would find his name in manager Charlie Manuel's starting lineup once the games started to count.

A few things have changed everything.

Brown's hand injury has secured a spot for Mayberry on the opening-day roster, which will mark the first time the first-round draft pick will be around at the start of a big-league season.

At the same time, Mayberry is making the decision an easy one for Manuel and general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. by having the kind of spring training that opens eyes.

"Nobody gives you a job in this game," Manuel said Saturday after Mayberry collected three hits and three RBIs in the Phillies' 11-4 split-squad win over Pittsburgh in Bradenton. "If somebody gives you a job, more than likely you're not going to hold it. I've seen guys come into camp and you give them a job, and I'd say 99 out of 100 times that doesn't work out."

Mayberry, 27, has been given nothing but good bloodlines in his pursuit of a big-league baseball career. Though he is the son of a former major-league slugger, his journey through the minor leagues has been difficult at times.

The Texas Rangers gave up on him as a prospect and traded him to the Phillies for Greg Golson after the 2008 season. Since arriving in Philadelphia, Mayberry has had two cups of big-league coffee - one in 2009 and another at the end of last year - but has yet to convince team officials he deserves a permanent spot on the roster.

Maybe that's about to change. With his three hits Saturday, his Grapefruit League average soared to .353, with three doubles, four home runs, and nine RBIs.

"I think it definitely makes you hungry when you're able to experience big-league life and how fun it is at the big-league level," Mayberry said. "I guess it definitely increases your drive and makes you want to work that much harder so you can try to be a mainstay the next time you get up there."

Manuel has noticed a different player in this camp.

"He works out harder," the manager said. "He's in better shape. He's got a stronger core over the last two years and he's improved his hitting as far as his approach, his stance, and he's stronger. He takes a stronger swing at the ball."

The Phillies also asked him to become more versatile this spring training by playing at first base in addition to all three outfield positions. Mayberry was a first baseman in college at Stanford, but Ryan Howard is playing there, so he won't need the big mitt much once he gets to Philadelphia.

Still, versatility is an attribute for any big-league player.

"I feel like things have gone pretty well so far," Mayberry said. "I'm just going to try to keep focused and do some of the things that I had intended to do at the outset of spring training. I basically wanted to add to my versatility by being able to play first base, and from an offensive standpoint I just wanted to be able to use the whole field more. I feel like I've made strides in both those areas."

Manuel believes that Mayberry also needs to get better at hitting righthanded pitchers, but even if he does not he still probably has a future as a platoon player.

"He puts in real good at-bats on lefties, but he still has to hit righties better," Manuel said. "But you can platoon guys. You can get at-bats that way."

Right now, Mayberry is hitting well against every pitcher he sees, and it's pleasing his manager.

"I look at him as a guy who is similar to Jayson Werth," Manuel said. "The better he does - who knows? - he might end up being a regular."

And that's a lot better than being an afterthought.