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Galvis replaces a Phillies mainstay on opening day: Rollins

Five third basemen were needed to fill out the final 116 games of the 1989 Phillies season. Mike Schmidt retired in late May from the spot he occupied for 17 years, leaving a glaring void on the hot corner.

Freddie Galvis. (David Maialetti/Staff Photographer)
Freddie Galvis. (David Maialetti/Staff Photographer)Read more

Five third basemen were needed to fill out the final 116 games of the 1989 Phillies season. Mike Schmidt retired in late May from the spot he occupied for 17 years, leaving a glaring void on the hot corner.

In a similar vein, another long accounted-for Phillies position was vacated in December. On Monday, for the first time since 2000, the team's opening-day shortstop will not be named James Calvin Rollins. After Rollins waived his no-trade rights to play for a contender, the Phillies did not acquire a shortstop to take his place.

Instead, the Phillies looked internally. At least for this season, the first in the team's transition from perennial contender to long-term rebuilder, the shortstop tasked with following the Phillies' all-time hits leader is a 25-year-old Venezuelan with a .218 major-league batting average. A great opportunity has been afforded to Freddy Galvis, who gets to try and prove this year he's more than merely a stopgap until top prospect J.P. Crawford is major-league ready.

"I don't think when you take the field you say, 'Jimmy Rollins was here before me.' I don't think that's how you do it," said former longtime Phillies shortstop Larry Bowa, the team's bench coach. "There are certain guys who leave their mark that no matter how good you are that mark will be there. I don't think that's a problem with Freddy.

"I just play baseball. I come here, play baseball, help the team to win the games and that's it," Galvis said.

Defense has never been an issue for Galvis, who dazzled over 50 games early in 2012 at second base, a position he had never played before, while filling in for an injured Chase Utley. Offense has long been the big question mark for the switch-hitting infielder.

Last season Galvis hit .176 in 128 major-league plate appearances. The Phillies would live with .240 or .250 from him this season. He will likely bat eighth in manager Ryne Sandberg's lineup against righthanders, but could hit out of the two hole against lefthanders.

The coaches worked with Galvis all spring to shorten his swing. They want him to focus on putting the ball in play and move baserunners. In a meeting before spring training, team president Pat Gillick suggested that the coaches have Galvis choke up on a Louisville Slugger U1, the same big-knobbed bat Bowa swung as a player. It's an ounce heavier and two inches longer than Galvis' usual bat.

Galvis quietly had a productive spring. He hit .278, his 20 hits second on the team behind Odubel Herrera. The bat, Bowa said, represents how the Phillies want Galvis to play.

"I don't know if it's changed him as far a hitter but I think he understands what the concept is that 'We don't care about you hitting seven home runs or six home runs,' " Bowa said. "We want you to put the ball in play consistently, choking up on his bat [and] moving runners. I think that part of it is affecting him more than just using that bat."

Staying on the field has been another issue for Galvis. He fractured his back while fouling off a pitch in June 2012. Later that month, Major League Baseball suspended him 50 games for testing positive for a banned substance. Last spring training he contracted MRSA. A broken left clavicle in a collision with a triple-A teammate cost him nearly two months of last season.

Galvis has 550 plate appearances of major-league experience over three season and has never as a major-leaguer compiled more than 205 at-bats or 70 games in a single season. Now he's tasked with replacing an iconic figure in Phillies history.

"It's hard to do it coming off the bench. I don't care who you are," said Rollins, set for his Dodgers debut Monday against the San Diego Padres in Los Angeles. "If your role hasn't been coming off the bench in the minor leagues, which it probably never will be, and you get to the big leagues, and in the big leagues going from every day to doing that, it makes it tough.

"But you don't get to see the real Freddy. Now, you have a whole season, hopefully at least one whole season and who knows what happens after that. But he has one whole season to show what he can do. And he's a good player. That's my little homie."


Zach Berman contributed reporting from Phoenix.