When the Philadelphia Phillies started their nine-game road trip against American League teams, manager Charlie Manuel made it clear that he intended to use 41-year old veteran Jim Thome as the designated hitter for the nine games.
It was pretty clear that the nine games would determine the future of Thome with the Philadelphia Phillies. After all, he batted just .111 (2 for 18) with 10 strikeouts in the first month of the season before he was placed on the disabled list. Tack on an 0 for 2 before the road trip in American League parks and Thome was staring a .100 batting average (2 for 20) right in the face.
Then came the nine-game road trip, and although the Phillies lost six of nine games to the Orioles, Twins, and Blue Jays, Thome established himself as one of the hottest hitters in the National League.
Over those nine games, he batted .333 (12 for 36) with four home runs and 13 RBIs. He scored eight runs and collected four walks. He raised his season slash line to .250/.344/.500, which virtually doubled all of his percentages from two weeks ago.
Thome’s power surge was a pleasant unexpected surprise but now the problem begins.
What should the Phillies do with Jim Thome now that they’re unable to use the designated hitter role any longer?
Pinch-hitting has not worked out well at all this season. Thome has had 10 pinch-hit opportunities this season, and he’s had zero hits. He’s 0 for 10 with 7 strikeouts. You really can’t get worse.
In the games he’s started, Thome has batted .305 (14 for 46) with four home runs and 14 RBIs. He’s been one of the more productive hitters on the Phillies.
So what’s the problem, right? Just start him over Ty Wigginton at first until Ryan Howard returns.
Well it’s not that simple. Thome can’t play defense. He literally can’t. He has a bad back and playing defense has become virtually impossible for him, to the point where Manuel stated on Friday that the Phillies don’t plan to use Thome at first when the team returns to National League games.
That rules out him playing first base two or three times a week. I would still try it though. I really would. I would be willing to put up with Thome’s poor defense if we could get his bat into the lineup. He’s been the offensive spark that we’ve needed. Notice how Hunter Pence and Jimmy Rollins have started to hit a lot better while Thome has been playing regularly.
But if Thome can’t play first base at all, I would hold onto him and continue to try him as a pinch-hitter. I don’t think he’s going to be very effective but he has 608 career home runs and is a 2012 version of Matt Stairs, the slugger who helped the Phillies win the World Series with a couple of big hits late in the 2008 season.
If it meant sending Hector Luna down to the minors, that’s a sacrifice I would be willing to make. Luna is batting .308 but that won’t last for much longer.
Besides, I think the Phillies owe it to Jim Thome to try to keep him. I wouldn’t want to trade him to an American League team, and to be honest, I’m not sure what the Phillies could get for a 41-year old slugger who can only play as a DH. If we could get a decent right handed reliever, I would make the trade. But I doubt we will, and as a result, the Phillies have got to try to get him accustomed to life as a pinch-hitter.
The best case scenario is that Ryan Howard returns to the big league club after the All-Star break and begins playing every day anyway. Then we don’t have to worry about Thome as much because Howard’s bat will be even better than Thome would be if he played every day.
This article was written by Bryn Swartz, the top writer for Eagles Central and a featured NFL columnist on Rant Sports. Bryn has written more than 1000 articles in less than two years as a member of Rant Sports. His blog, Eagles Central, was named the 2010 Ballhyped Sports Blog of the Year. To read a portfolio of Bryn’s best work, click here.