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Slap-happy hitters a dying breed

The Phillies' Ben Revere is trying to get adjusted to a new league. He occasionally gets tips from fellow speedster Juan Pierre.

Ben Revere falls down to one knee while batting against the Pittsburgh Pirates on Wednesday, April 24, 2013. (Yong Kim/Staff Photographer)
Ben Revere falls down to one knee while batting against the Pittsburgh Pirates on Wednesday, April 24, 2013. (Yong Kim/Staff Photographer)Read more

THE CLUB, by description and definition, is a small one. In a world of bulging biceps and shrunken ballparks, the slap-hitting speedsters who populated the 1970s and '80s era of spacious, artificial-turf stadiums are nearly extinct, the few remaining required to prove their worth on almost a nightly basis, their margin of error as slim as their hips.

"There sure ain't that many of us left," Juan Pierre said the other day. "Me. Ben Revere. Michael Bourn maybe, but he's got some pop . . . "

So does Denard Span, the Nationals centerfielder who had 38 doubles and four home runs for the Twins last season. That's four times as many dingers and 15 more doubles than Pierre and Revere combined for last season.

"I'll give props to any speed guy who comes up," Pierre said. "I'll watch TV and look at him and I'll be like, 'Hey man, this cat looks like me out there.' "

Now 35, Pierre has seen only one such guy recently, which is why he has taken an active interest in the exploits and current struggles of the 25-year-old Revere, seeking him out when the two were American League rivals a couple of seasons ago, renewing that relationship when the players' new teams met in Miami early in the season, and in Philadelphia last week.

In the American League, the conversation centered around work ethic. Now, it is about adjusting to a new league and holding on to that most needed of gifts for the slap-hitting speedster - confidence.

"It's been kind of tough," Revere said recently. "Coming over here, it's a different league and kind of a different story. Everybody told me it was totally easier pitching, and then I got here and it totally wasn't."

Pierre smiled when he heard this. "I know when I went from the National League to the American League I batted .200 the first 2 months of the season," he said. "I went from the Dodgers to the White Sox and I had played 7 or 8 years in the National League. Learning new pitchers, learning what they like to do, learning new fields."

There is also this: Pierre and Revere can not slug their way out of a slump. The difference between a hit and an out, even on a great day, is a matter of an inch or 2. Tuesday, Revere registered two hits when a grounder found its way past the shortstop and a bunt landed so perfectly, he wound up on second after a hurried and errant throw.

On most other nights this season, those hits have been outs for him.

"I'm going through that right now," said Pierre, who is hitting .239 with the Fish after registering a .307 average with the Phillies last season. "You're not a slugger, where guys will try to walk you. If you're Ryan Howard and he gets on base, nobody's concerned about you running or anything like that.

"Pitchers go over scouting reports about Ben or me, it's, 'We don't want this guy on base.' So for us to sit in there and try to work a walk - you try, but it's hard when you're not feeling too good at the plate and they're pumping strikes. So you're 1-2 or 0-2 all the time because you're trying to see some pitches. And people say, 'Then bunt.' But when you're not hitting too good, even your bunts may be an inch or 2 off. And that's all you need to get thrown out."

Revere has been getting thrown out a lot this year. He's even hit into five doubleplays after hitting into eight all of last season. Since the beginning of this month, however, his average has climbed 30 points to .234. But he has also lost starts and playing time for the sake of some much-needed pop in the lineup.

Earlier this week, Hunter Pence admitted he put too much pressure on himself to fill the void left by Howard and Chase Utley last season. His confidence shot, the Phillies dealt him at the trade deadline. Revere admits to wanting to do so well in his new home that he might have wanted it too much.

"I've just got to ease up," he said. "Stop putting so much pressure on me. The Phillies went out and got me because they knew I can hit. I just have to go out and play my game."

His history, brief as it is, provides hope. A model of consistency last year with the Twins, Revere's average quickly climbed over .300 after he was made a starter in mid-May, and never dipped below .285 from that point on. Tutored by Hall of Famer and seven-time AL batting champion Rod Carew each spring, Revere said he once had an early-season slump like this year's in the minors, but thought what he had learned from it made him immune.

Pierre has since told him: You are never immune.

"He's a good, exciting player," Pierre said. "I think he's going to be a great player for the Phillies. But when you get off to a slow start, it's tough for any new player. And especially when the team is not doing as well as you like. You might get a little extra stuff. But I think he's strong enough to take it."

"You've got so many people trying to tell you stuff," Revere said. "And really, it's kind of like, take a deep breath and just go out there and hit. Everyone knows you can hit. Just can't get too much into your own head or you'll fall on your face. I'm the type of guy who can go 4-for-4 and get it going. I've just got to have fun. And try to get back to that."