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The Phillies have a $9 million bench player

Michael Saunders, a free-agent acquisition, is batting just .218 and not getting much playing time.

ATLANTA - The Phillies signed Michael Saunders a month before spring training, hoping the outfielder would rediscover his All-Star form and they could ship him to a contender at the trade deadline. Moving Saunders now seems unlikely, as simply finding playing time for him is proving to be a challenge.

Saunders was out of the lineup Tuesday night, as he's batting just .218 with a .652 OPS. It is the sixth-worst OPS among all major-league outfielders. He was a first-time All-Star last season but batted just .178 with a .638 OPS in the second half. Those struggles are continuing. The Phillies gave him $9 million in January and will pay him $1 million if they decline his option for next season. He started the season batting fifth and playing right field. Two months later, he's a bench player behind Odubel Herrera, Howie Kendrick, and Aaron Altherr.

"At this point, I've got to play those guys," manager Pete Mackanin said. "It'll all even out. At some point, they will get a rest. If they keep swinging the bat, we're going to keep it going."

Kendrick, like Saunders, was acquired with the hopes of flipping him at the July 31 trade deadline. They should be able to. Kendrick went 3 for 4 with a homer on Tuesday and looks to be swinging his way out of Philadelphia. He is batting .348 in 66 at-bats and has homered twice since returning last week from the disabled list.

Altherr started the season as the team's fourth outfielder. He homered Monday and is batting .294 with a .917 OPS in 160 at-bats. Altherr is the team's most fluid defender and is proving that he might be a piece of the future. Herrera is tied for the league lead with 19 doubles and looks to be pulling himself out of a slump. He is 9 for his last 17 with seven doubles. The Phillies finally seem to have a set outfield, and it does not include the player they signed this winter.

"At this point, I can't justify not playing Kendrick or Altherr or Odubel, at least for today," Mackanin said. "He's going to get playing time."