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Phillies outfield is in a state of flux

No one seems to have solidified his position as a solid, steady Phillies outfielder.

New York Mets catcher Travis d'Arnaud watches as Philadelphia Phillies
Domonic Brown, center,  greets Marlon Byrd, right, at home plate after
Byrd hit a solo home run off of New York Mets starting pitcher Bartolo
Colon in the fifth inning of a baseball game at Citi Field on Saturday, Aug. 30, 2014, in New York. (AP Photo/Kathy Kmonicek)
New York Mets catcher Travis d'Arnaud watches as Philadelphia Phillies Domonic Brown, center, greets Marlon Byrd, right, at home plate after Byrd hit a solo home run off of New York Mets starting pitcher Bartolo Colon in the fifth inning of a baseball game at Citi Field on Saturday, Aug. 30, 2014, in New York. (AP Photo/Kathy Kmonicek)Read more

ATLANTA - The ball jumped off the former All-Star's bat and looked as if it was on a path for the near-empty rightfield seats at Turner Field.

"That's out of a lot of ballparks," Phillies manager Ryne Sandberg said afterward.

The ball was hit by Grady Sizemore, who sneaked into Sandberg's lineup for the final of three games in Atlanta.

"There's a different sound to his bat; he gives you a quality at-bat," Sandberg said. "He does square up a lot of balls, consistently."

Sizemore's first at-bat of the game ended with him sending a ball to the wall, where Jason Heyward made a catch that prevented an extra-base hit. In his next at-bat, Sizemore sent a ball out of Heyward's range and over the same rightfield fence for a game-tying, two-run homer. He walked in his third trip to the plate.

Sizemore, the 32-year-old, three-time All-Star who had his career suspended by a string of injuries, is hitting .304 with a .360 OBP and an .840 OPS in 44 games with the Phillies. In 27 starts, he's batting .315 with two home runs, nine RBI, nine doubles, a triple, eight walks and eight strikeouts.

"He does a nice job," Sandberg said. "Impressive."

But after starting 20 of his first 23 games with the Phillies from July 11 to Aug. 8, Sizemore has made only eight starts. The series finale in Atlanta was only his fifth start since Aug. 17.

"I'm just trying to make the most of the opportunities I get," he said. "We have a lot of guys here playing well. So opportunities are limited. I'm trying to stay ready, stay sharp and do what I can when I'm out there."

Sizemore has often found himself on the same bench as Darin Ruf, who has been even more productive in the last 6 weeks when he has been on the field.

Ruf enters play today hitting .313 with a .414 OBP and .914 OPS in 24 games since rejoining the Phillies on July 22, when John Mayberry Jr. was placed on the disabled list. Despite those gaudy numbers, Ruf has started in only 13 of the 40 games the Phillies have played over that period.

Ruf has started only one game on the current road trip; he didn't get on the field at all, even as a pinch-hitter, last weekend in New York.

Ruf has started only twice since Aug. 20. Ruf has hit safely in six of the last seven games he has started, with multiple hits in five of those games.

"Impressive," Sandberg said.

Could he finally push the issue this month and force Sandberg's hand when the manager writes out his daily lineup?

"We've got more guys now [with rosters having expanded]," Sandberg said. "So, it's good that we've got some guys that are resting and not in the lineup that are playing pretty well. That fares good for late-inning situations. It's a good problem."

Sandberg deftly skated away from the outfield issue. So what gives?

Since they've been well out of a pennant race for months, and have an eye toward 2015, perhaps the Phillies are trotting out less-appealing options in the hopes that those options will get something going and increase their trade value this offseason.

Just as Ryan Howard might be more attractive to an American League team this winter - so long as the Phillies pay a very large chunk of the $60 million remaining on his contract - if he can reach 25 home runs and 100 RBI before season's end, maybe the thought is that Domonic Brown will look a bit more appealing if he can get his bat going at some point in the season's homestretch.

During that same 6-week, 40-game period since Ruf has been on the roster (and Sizemore's playing time has declined), Brown has appeared in 31 games and made 20 starts. He is batting .258 with 10 extra-base hits (two home runs) over that time period.

It's an improvement over what he hit in the season's first 4 months, but that's not saying a whole lot, considering how those first 4 months went for Brown, who enters today hitting .234. Brown's .631 OPS ranked 55th out of the 57 major league outfielders with at least 400 plate appearances this season.

Coupled with his poor defense, Brown's unreliable bat puts him on uncertain ground to return in 2015, even with an inexpensive and controllable salary.

The Phillies need to improve their offense this offseason, and since they're hamstrung to make changes at some positions (namely, the middle infield and first base), the outfield remains the best place for the front office to make wholesale changes.

What began as a glaring hole in one of the two corner spots when Raul Ibanez' contract expired 3 years ago, beginning an outfield carousel of Juan Pierre, Mayberry and Delmon Young in three straight seasons, has morphed into a outfield-wide vacancy.

Marlon Byrd has been acceptable on offense and exceptional on defense, but he just turned 37 and could be a candidate for a trade this winter, to infuse younger talent into the roster. Ben Revere was leading the National League in hitting yesterday and is on pace for 50 stolen bases, but his defense in centerfield, particularly his arm strength, has been a question since he arrived and, because of that, he might not be a long-term solution in center.

Sandberg views Sizemore, a free agent after the season, as an option in either of the corner spots. The team prefers Ruf at first base, but he could be an option to platoon in left, too, in 2015.

The reality is the uncertainty the Phillies faced with their outfield entering last offseason hasn't changed as this offseason nears. Perhaps Brown will be traded, Revere will be moved to a corner spot (to platoon with Ruf?) and Sizemore will replace Byrd in right.

The need for an impact centerfielder (capable of handling the position on offense and defense) persists. But unless you're a big fan of Colby Rasmus, there doesn't appear to be an answer on the free-agent market.

The Phils will need to be creative, as the Chicago White Sox were last winter in landing Adam Eaton in a three-way trade with the Diamondbacks and Angels. Or perhaps, after missing out on Rusney Castillo, the Phils will continue to patrol the international free agent market.

In the meantime, Sandberg will continue to shuffle the current pieces he has at his disposal. And the playing time of those pieces this month might not necessarily have anything to do with the likelihood that they'll be back in 2015.