CINCINNATI — Brandon Phillips wants it known up front that he is not trying to manage the Cincinnati Reds, not trying to inject any request or demands, not trying to be a clubhouse lawyer.
He just wanted manager Dusty Baker to know something. So just before the All-Star break Phillips told his manager, “If you need me to go back to the leadoff spot, just tell me.”
And what did Baker say?
“I know you are,” he said.
Phillips believes it might be a way to jump-start a somewhat moribund offense, especially at the top where leadoff batter Zack Cozart is hitting .252 with a .298 on-base avereage and No. 2 batter Drew Stubbs is hitting .215 with a .286 on-base average.
It wouldn’t be novel. Phillips has batted leadoff often, including most of the 2011 season. But now Baker has him batting fourth, behind Joey Votto.
“We never talked about it happening, I just put it in his head,” said Phillips. “I feel I am more of a complete player leading off than I am batting fourth. If we don’t go get somebody to bat leadoff that leaves us with a hole.
“It would be easier for them to go find somebody to hit fourth and it would be to find somebody to hit leadoff,” said Phillips, although there are reports that the Reds aare sniffing around about leadoff hitter Juan Pierre.
“On our team, things are so different, so unique than all the others,” Phillips added.
Asked to expand, Phillips expanded profusely.
“We have a guy like Zack Cozart leading off and he is a No. 2 hitter, that type of hitter,” said Phillips. “On our team, because of holes, we have to shuffle people around.
“Like Drew Stubbs,” Phillips added. “He is more productive down in the order where all he has to do is hit the ball instead of thinking about bunting and moving runners. He worries about not getting on base instead of just playing baseball.”
Phillips said it is more difficult with a player like Stubbs in the No. 2 hole, an inexperience guy who has to think about too many things in addition to getting on base.
“Stubbs has talent, no doubt, but right now he is trying to plug a hole he isn’t suited to and he took off last year at the end of the year when he batted lower in the order,” said Phillips.
“Our lineup is just different — why I saw it is unique,” he added. There has been chatter about Phillips batted second, but he says, “I’d rather bat lead-off because I can steal bases whenever I want. Batting second I can’t do that.”
Nor can Stubbs steal many bases while he bats second, even though he runs faster than a rumor. He has 17 stolen bases in 21 attempts, but also has 77 strikeouts in 251 at-bats and it is impossible to steal first base when you are walking toward the dugout, bat dragging behind you.
Phillips realizes that if he moves from cleanup to leadoff it merely shifts a hole from one locale to another, the hole he leaves at cleanup.
“I wouldn’t move Jay Bruce from fifth to fourth because for some reason he doesn’t do as well when he bats cleanup as he does in the five-hole,” said Phillips. “That’s what I mean about our lineup being unique. Because we hae to plug holes and put players in different spots, they can’t be the players they should be.”
When second-half play began Friday night against the St. Louis Cardinals, Phillips was still batting cleanup, Cozart was leading off, Stubbs was batting second and Bruce was batting fifth.
That, of course, is subject to change — something that will be decided by Baker and nobody else. But Phillips just wanted it known that he is ready, willing and more than able to slip into the leadoff spot if Baker decides to shuffle the deck and try a new deal.