CLEARWATER, Fla. - Ryan Howard calls him "Happy." It's a perfect nickname, because Phillies centerfielder Ben Revere seems to have a perpetual smile.
Only two things wiped it away last year. The first was his horrific start to the season, and the second was a premature end to the season caused by a fractured right ankle that required major surgery just before the all-star break.
Revere's injury isn't typically high on the long list of reasons why the 2013 Phillies season spiraled into a monstrous free fall that dropped them to fourth in the National League East, but when you look at the facts, it probably should be.
Hoping he would fill the hole left by the departure of centerfielder Shane Victorino at the 2012 trade deadline, Revere instead became the hole at the top of the batting order through the first month of the season. He batted .204 with one extra-base hit and nine runs scored in his first 26 games. The Phillies went 10-16 during that stretch. Former manager Charlie Manuel benched him quite a bit, hoping it would trigger something.
"I think when Charlie sat him down for a little while, he went in and he really worked hard at trying to get all the movement out of his swing," hitting coach Steve Henderson said. "We tried to get him to load a little bit quicker, and he took to it. Everything I asked him to do, he tried it."
Revere and Henderson agreed that the switch to the National League took some adjustment, too.
"Last year, I came over here to the National League, and most pitchers use their off-speed stuff," Revere said. "I had to learn that quickly. Everything was different from the American League. Over here, they like to backdoor-pitch you a lot, especially a guy like myself who is a leadoff guy. They did that from first pitch to last, so I just had to find the right swing for that."
He found it.
Exactly when, he isn't sure, but in his final 62 games he batted .350 with a .382 on-base percentage while scoring 28 runs and stealing 16 bases in 22 attempts. He also had nine doubles and two triples. Revere had four multiple-hit games through May 4 and 26 in his final 62 games. It was no coincidence that the Phillies went 32-30 in that stretch and appeared to be positioning themselves for a run at one of the two National League wild-card berths.
And then, in the 11th inning of a 5-4 loss to the Chicago White Sox on July 13, Revere fouled a ball off his right foot. He squirmed in pain for a while before getting back into the batter's box. Revere grounded the next pitch to third base for a game-ending double play. For him, it was also a season-ending event.
"I think the real Ben Revere surfaced," general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. said. "It was a big blow when we lost him. It wasn't just that we lost a guy who was igniting us at the time, but also for his continued development. We didn't really have a great replacement, and that hurt us."
The Phillies believe they are better equipped to replace the 25-year-old centerfielder if he is lost for a substantial amount of time again this season.
"I think we definitely have it more covered than we did last September," manager Ryne Sandberg said. ". . . I would say we have options now."
The options the manager listed were Domonic Brown, who will be the starting leftfielder, and Marlon Byrd, the starting rightfielder who used to be a centerfielder. He also listed John Mayberry Jr., Tony Gwynn Jr., and Clete Thomas as potential replacements.
The Phillies are hoping it doesn't come to that because Revere is by far the best option, especially if he can begin this season the way he ended the last one.
"He was missed big-time," Sandberg said. "I remember the best baseball that we played last year was when he got hot. We got to .500 at the all-star break, and he was in the middle of all that."
Revere said the broken bone in his ankle healed quickly, and he used his rehabilitation time here in Clearwater to improve his defense and throwing. He believes people will be impressed with his improved arm strength, which he credited to working with minor-league outfield instructor Andy Abad and former pitching coach Rich Dubee.
"That's the first time I've ever been on the disabled list, but you always have to keep your head up," Revere said. "Baseball is a mental game. The whole time during my injury I could have been down and cried about it, or I could get back up. That's who I am. It was a freak accident, but I'm not worried about my ankle. I'm just going to go out there and play my game. Hopefully I can start off on a hot streak and so can the team so we can be in the race early."