GOODYEAR, Ariz. — Brandon Phillips isn’t parading around the Cincinnati Reds clubhouse holding aloft a placard that reads, “I’m No. 2.”
But he is OK with the fact that he’ll bat second in manager Dusty Baker’s order and that if all goes well he’ll be No. 2 all year, giving him a sense of offensive stability.
It hasn’t always been that way and that’s his own fault because the 31-year-old second baseman has offensive versatility.
He has batted fourth. He has batted third. He has batted second. He has batted first.
For example, Phillips batted fourth 73 times last year and the team was 43-30. He batted third 43 times when Joey Votto was injured and the team was 29-14. He batted first 28 times when Baker was searching for a leadoff guy and the team was 16-12.
He didn’t bat second. But that’s where he’ll be this year because left fielder Ryan Ludwick is ensconced in the fourth spot and the Reds acquired leadoff hitter Shin-Soo Choo from the Cleveland Indians.
“Not many guys have the talent to bounce around a batting order the way Brandon does and it may not always be the best for him but it has worked out best for the team,” said Baker.
That should change and for Phillips that’s all he wants, a permanent residence rather than a nomadic roaming around the batting order.
“As always, it is whatever the team wants, that’s basically it,” he said. “I’ve moved all over since I got here. The last time I hit in one spot was ’07 and that was when I had my best year.”
He batted third that year and hit .288 with 30 home runs, 94 RBI and 33 stolen bases. But another guy arrived to take over the No. 3 spot, a guy named Joey Votto. And his memory is a bit spotty. In 2007 Phillips batted third only 17 times and hit .239 while he batted fourth 81 times and hit .306.
“If I could hit anywhere, I would love to hit third because I feel like I could do everything,” he said. “You feel more freedom, like a total ballplayer, and you feel like you’re the man when you hit third.”
‘The Man’ now is Joey Votto, but Phillips isn’t far behind and with a spot he can call his own he might emerge again offensively.
“I’ll bat second if that’s what they want,” he said. “At that spot you get to be more of a team player by getting the guys over (from second to third), do the hit and run and you don’t get to steal that often. You are like the set-up man in the lineup.
“Whatever makes the team better, whatever they want me to do, I’ll do it,” he said. “I just want to win.”
Personal goals are nice and sometimes selfish, but Phillips puts it in perspective by saying, “I’ll start my goals by saying we need to take another step up in the playoffs. Our goal every year is to win the ring, but I feel you have to take steps. So this year we need to at least get to the second round.”
Phillips finds it difficult to set personal goals for two reasons — his tour through different spots in the batting order and his team concept.
“For myself, it is hard to set goals because every time I set a goal I end up changing spots in the batting order,” he said. “One year I wanted 100 RBI when I was batting fourth and they changed me to leadoff. Then I wanted to score 100 runs at leadoff and they put me back to fourth. There are so many things that make it hard for me to set goals for myself.”
And Phillips believes it makes it difficult for fans to appreciate him, although Phillips is close to being the face of the team with his radiant smile and swirling personality.
“It is hard for the Reds fans to see what I can really do on the field because of me moving all over the lineup,” he said. “I try the best I can because I am versatile enough to do whatever the Reds ask me to do. I think I’m doing pretty good or I wouldn’t still be here.”
The Reds gave Phillips a five-year, $72 million contract last year and he aims to give them every penny’s worth of their money in effort.
“It is good that Dusty and my teammates appreciate me and love that about me, that I’m a team player who will do what the team needs to do.”
And about that effort, or extra effort? Some, mostly opponents, say his extra effort, which is flair and extraneous showmanship, puts the label of hot dog on him. And to that, he says, “If they think I’m a hot dog, then pass the mustard.”
Phillips owns three Gold Gloves, but didn’t win one last year and indicated he thought some managers and coaches didn’t vote for him because they thought his nickname should be Oscar Mayer.
“It shouldn’t have anything to do with personal likes or dislikes when it comes to playing ability,” said Baker. “It should come down to who is the best at that position. But it is a natural thing that people vote for who they like.
“I’ve talked to him about it (toning it down) and Joe Morgan has talked to him about it, but after a while you quit talking about it and realize that’s him and hope he just tones it down some.”
Phillips will play second base for the USA in the World Baseball Classic and can’t wait for play to begin.
“I’m looking forward to it because it is a dream come true,” he said. “To represent my country is something I’ve always wanted to do since it started in 1996. Just to have an opportunity to do that is an honor and a blessing, especially getting to play for (manager) Joe Torre.”
And wherever Torre wants him in the batting order, Phillips says, “I’ll do it. Don’t I always?”