Notes: Hurlers work on bunting skills
Manuel wants Phillies to improve, hands reins to Williams
CLEARWATER, Fla. -- With fundamentals often stressed during the early days of Spring Training, Phillies' new bench coach Jimy Williams stressed bunting to the pitchers.The veteran baseball man, who has a reputation as an oustanding teacher, discussed the lost art with the pitchers Friday and provided a demonstration. They bunted in the cage and will head to the fields in the next few days. An improvement in their bunting and hitting skills would directly lead to hightened confidence from manager Charlie Manuel, especially when it comes to starting runners and so forth with the pitcher at the plate. "[We're working on] slash hitting and things like that," Manuel said. "Maybe they can become good enough to hit-and-run. [Jimy] did a good job talking to them." Philadelphia had the second-lowest total of sacrifice bunts in the National League in 2006, just ahead of the Cubs, and had the NL's lowest batting average at .092. Better efficiency would lead to more scoring opportunities and potentially allow the starters to remain in the game longer. "Our bunting has definitely been a weakness," Manuel said. "The whole object of the guys pitching is to move the guy over into scoring position. He can stay longer in the game and it gives you a chance of winning, too. I think that we have lagged in that department, because the workload has been very big and we didn't push it a lot. I think the more we can concentrate on it, the better off we'll be." Pitchers typically don't hit much in Spring Training or during the regular season. Their job is to get hitters out. They'll take batting practice, but often just try to hit home runs. "I can crush BP," right-hander Brett Myers said. "I'm a great four o'clock hitter." That should change. Pitchers might hit twice on the field between starts and once in the cage. "The more we do it, the better we're going to get," Myers said. "Guys have to want to do it, though." Dobbs arrives: Greg Dobbs threw his cap into the competition for a spot on the Phillies' bench as he arrived in Clearwater. The team is searching for a left-handed hitter, and general manager Pat Gillick remembered Dobbs from the Mariners. The Phils claimed him off waivers on Jan. 16.
"I'm very excited to be with the organization," Dobbs said. "It's a fresh opportunity with a new club. I just hope to contribute here in any way I can. It was really nice the way it worked out. Anytime you're taken off a 40-man [as the Mariners did], you never know what's going to happen. In this case, the best possible thing happened. They picked me up and put me on the roster and gave me a shot to compete for a spot on this roster. That's really all you can ask for."Dobbs, 28, who is from Los Angeles, had a productive year with Triple-A Tacoma in 2006, batting .314 in 379 at-bats, with nine home runs. He hit .370 in 27 at-bats for the Mariners. His ability to put the ball in play will help his cause. "Contact definitely comes into play with pinch-hitting," Manuel said. "Some of the better pinch-hitters in the game didn't have much power. [Having] a short compact swing and [putting] it in play -- I think it's real big." Dobbs could also be helped by his versatility. He can play first base, third base, left and right field, and Manuel promised to give him a look at all four spots. "He'll definitely get a chance to show what he has," Manuel said. Dobbs is likely competing with Chris Coste, Karim Garcia and Randall Simon for two jobs: a backup infielder and backup outfielder spot. "I have no idea what they're looking for, what they're not looking for," Dobbs said. "I know Coste had a tremendous year last year. He's a solid player and brings a lot to the table. My focus is to come in, stay healthy, work hard and see what I can do. I feel I can help them win. It's a new organization for me, so this is a whole new experience." Take charge: In another meeting, pitching coach Rich Dubee stressed his desire for the catchers to be more assertive in their game-calling. "It's going to be real good for Rod [Barajas], being new," Dubee said. "But I think it's important, even for the young kids, to get into a comfort zone. I want them to feel good about themselves, that they do want to take charge during a game. And we'll talk about all the different things that come up during a game." Added Manuel: "It's better when the pitcher and catcher feel like they can run the game," Manuel said. "The big thing is making the pitch and getting it in there and having the command to put the ball where we want it. Then we have a good chance of getting him out." Goosebumps: The Phillies have begun airing spots for their spring advertising campaign, which takes a light-hearted look at players and fans living with the effects of a condition known as "Goosebumps." The television spots created include Ryan Howard, Jimmy Rollins, Cole Hamels, Aaron Rowand and Manuel, while Myers, Chase Utley, Shane Victorino, the voice of broadcaster Harry Kalas and other players will be featured later. One of the spots has drawn particular amusement from members of the organization. In it, Rowand discovers a lotion in Hamels' locker that the pitcher hopes will cure his ailment. Howard suggests wearing an extra shirt, while Rowand goes with long underwear.
Manuel delivers the punch line when he booms, "Panty hose works for that."When his players react with shock, Manuel backpedals. "That's what I've heard." Not good: Former Phillies first baseman Jim Thome recently appeared in the audience of The Oprah Winfrey Show, and provided some unintentional hilarity. Winfrey and her guest were discussing feminine hygiene when the camera cut to a visibly uncomfortable Thome, who was there with his wife, Andrea. He apparently wished he has picked a more vanilla episode to attend, like perhaps one where Tom Cruise jumped on the couch. Winfrey and Thome exchanged some banter, and Thoms later talked to manager Manuel. "It wasn't good, Chuck," Manuel said Thome told him. The video can be found on YouTube, by typing in Jim Thome on Ophrah. Philling in: Righty Scott Mathieson played catch from 60 feet, his furthest distance yet. He threw 60 tosses and maintained that he's feeling great in his rehabilitation from Tommy John elbow ligament replacement surgery. ... Ryan Howard posed for a photo shoot Friday afternoon for Philadelphia magazine. He liked the suit provided for him so much that he purchased it.
Ken Mandel is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.