CODY ASCHE'S absence from the lineup last night wasn't as notable as Ryne Sandberg's choice to replace him.
With a lefty starter on the mound, Sandberg elected to go with Jayson Nix instead of Freddy Galvis as his righthanded hitting third baseman. While it might not have been a major story line, it was a good indication of the improvement that Galvis needs to show at the plate if he ever hopes to make the transition from utility whiz to Gold Glove regular.
Nix, a journeyman who is playing for his sixth team in 7 years, entered last night hitting .179 with a home run and a .493 OPS. Yet Sandberg had some reason to think Nix offered the best chance of success against Mets lefty Jon Niese. While Galvis clearly isn't as bad as his 1-for-30 start might suggest, the Phillies do think he needs to make some adjustments at the plate: Specifically, they want to see him develop a swing that results in fewer fly balls and more line drives and ground balls.
Last year, Galvis averaged 1.85 fly balls for every ground ball, the fourth-highest average in the National League, behind only Jason Kubel, Lucas Duda, and Brandon Belt (minimum 200 plate appearances).
This year, Galvis is averaging 0.69 ground balls per fly ball, more than only Jimmy Rollins (0.66) and Carlos Ruiz (0.65) among Phillies position players.
"He's working on not hitting the ball in the air, and gap-to-gap line drives, and staying on top of the ball, and using his speed," Sandberg said. "Being a situational hitter, getting bunts down, a hit-and-run type of a guy. That's what's being asked of him and being talked to him about."
Last night's game started nearly an hour-and-a-half late, but the Phillies were determined to play the game in order to avoid the potential of going 4 straight days without a game. Today's forecast calls for rain throughout the day, growing heavier at night, putting the back end of a two-game series against the Mets in serious doubt. Combine that with off days on Monday and tomorrow, and the Phillies would have 4 straight days to cool off following strong 6-4 showing on their road trip through Denver, Los Angeles and Arizona.
"With the off days built in, we want to play, definitely," Sandberg said.
The Phillies bullpen will be getting some extra help in the form of righthander Roberto Hernandez, who is expected to be skipped in the rotation due to the aforementioned off days. Hernandez, who has a 5.81 ERA in five starts this season, will not be needed until May 6. He entered last night's game in the fifth inning in relief of Cole Hamels. Hernandez finished last season in the Rays' bullpen after losing his spot in the rotation.
"He knows the routine," Sandberg said.
Another arm could be added to the mix before the end of May. Righthander Ethan Martin has begun throwing in extended spring training games and could start an official rehab assignment in the near future. Because his shoulder strain forced him to miss most of spring training, Martin is just beginning a progression that usually calls for eight to 10 appearances scattered over 3-plus weeks.
At this point, the Phillies are not planning on using righthander Miguel Alfredo Gonzalez out of the bullpen. The Cuban signee faced hitters on Sunday and, according to Sandberg, fared well. Like Martin, he is at the beginning of his progression.
"I got word yesterday that he's throwing the ball well and he's healthy and he looks completely different - a lot different - than spring training," Sandberg said. "Better velocity and better stuff. That's good news."
First baseman and outfielder Darin Ruf (oblique) is expected to start a rehab assignment within the next few days. Ruf is not necessarily guaranteed a spot on the big-league roster once that assignment is over.