TORONTO - Eleven years ago, Marlon Byrd broke into the big leagues as a regular with the Phillies. He was the team's everyday centerfielder.
Centerfield became Byrd's primary position; he entered last night having made 1,140 major league starts, with 772 of those coming in centerfield.
Byrd hasn't played center regularly since 2011, when he was with the Chicago Cubs. But with Ben Revere's subpar play in center, it was worth wondering whether manager Ryne Sandberg would consider playing Byrd in center.
Sandberg raved about Byrd's play in rightfield earlier this week.
"He's an option for centerfield, yeah," Sandberg said. "He has experience there. From what I've seen, his first-step quickness and his reads are outstanding. And he has an above-average arm."
Byrd's possible availability in center was a subject matter because the Phillies' current starting centerfielder has been subpar in the field this season, including two games against the Blue Jays this week.
On Tuesday night, Revere couldn't get enough on a throw to make a play at home in the 10th inning, when a sacrifice fly to center won the game for Toronto. On Wednesday, he badly misread a ball that was ruled a triple that began Toronto's nine-run seventh inning.
Reserve outfielder Tony Gwynn Jr. started in place of Revere last night.
"I'd say that he's made some strides, made some improvements," Sandberg said of Revere. "He's worked from Day 1 on creating better arm strength and better fundamentals, throwing. That's come a long way. He's got more carry on his ball. He's also worked on charging the ball, on the ground, to keep guys from first to third. There's been an improvement in that area. He continues to work on the fundamentals of getting good jumps on balls. Good reads . . . He has shown improvement."
But whether that is enough improvement for Revere to qualify as an adequate starting centerfielder is another story altogether.
Byrd, meanwhile, played in center twice last year and only 42 times since the beginning of the 2012 season. He last played regularly in center in 2011 with the Cubs.
Is he a serious option?
"I've talked to him about it," Sandberg said. "And he likes playing centerfield. In my experience, a lot of guys that have played the corners and centerfield like centerfield the best, as far as seeing the ball and getting even better jumps. You can see the angles in front of you. The job that he does in rightfield, with that, with jumps, positioning and going back, going to the gap and coming in, he's been outstanding."
When pressed whether Byrd was a serious candidate, Sandberg played it cool.
"He's a possibility," Sandberg said. "He's a candidate to play center."
A possible long-term answer this year, though?
"He's just a candidate," Sandberg said. "I'm not going much further than that, long-term or anything like that. He's a candidate in centerfield."
If Byrd gets an opportunity, and proves to be an adequate centerfielder, it might also allow for Darin Ruf to find more playing time (over Revere) when he returns later this month. Ruf, who has been sidelined since the end of spring training with an oblique injury, began his official rehab assignment at Class A Clearwater last night.
He started at first base and batted third in the Threshers' lineup. Ruf saw time in both the outfield and first base in extended spring training games in the last week.
Ruf, however, could also find himself getting playing time in leftfield, where the Phillies have received the lowest production from the position than any team in baseball. Phillies leftfielders had a .561 OPS entering play last night, which ranked 30th.
Domonic Brown entered last night hitless in his last 11 at-bats and in a 1-for-25 slump over his last seven games. Brown, who had one home run and five extra-base hits, had a lower slugging percentage (.286) than Revere (.311).
Brown has the fifth worst OPS among the 68 major league outfielders who qualify. Brown (.564) ranks 64th and Revere (.600) ranks 59th.
The Phillies' constantly changing assortment of bullpen righthanders saw two more pitchers go through the revolving door: Veteran Shawn Camp was outrighted to Triple A Lehigh Valley and Luis Garcia was recalled from the IronPigs.
Garcia was 2-0 with a 0.00 ERA and a 0.95 WHIP (walks and hits per innings pitched) in 11 games at Lehigh Valley. He struck out 13 and walked four in 13 2/3 innings.
"We were keeping tabs on him, keeping an eye on him," Sandberg said of Garcia, who was up briefly in April. "He'll have a chance."
The 27-year-old Garcia, who made a memorable entry into the big leagues last summer, a year removed from playing for the Newark Bears in the Independent Atlantic League and working on the side as a hairstylist, was working as the IronPigs' closer. He registered six saves this season and said he's refined his mechanics since spring training.
"I loved it," Garcia said. "It's a lot of pressure, but it's a great feeling you get at the end of the game."