Byrd Shows More Effort, But Same Results

Since his return from Scranton, Marlon Byrd has shown more spark in his game and the effort that was lacking earlier in the season seems to have returned. That's the good news. The bad news is that the numbers aren't showing the sort of increase that the Phillies had hoped they would see from their supposed centerfielder of the future.

The Phillies really hoped that some time in the minors would be just the right medicine to cure Marlon Byrd. Special hitting instructor Charlie Manuel was dispatched to make Byrd his personal project. Early on, Manuel reported that Byrd was showing signs of improvement. He reported him to be a good student who was eager to take the things that Manuel was trying to teach him and apply them in every at bat. The two worked long and hard and at times, Byrd showed signs of returning to being the kind of hitter that he was late last season.

That was then.

When Byrd returned from Scranton, he was instantly given his centerfield job back. The Phillies hoped that he would be a spark that would help to catch the team on fire as they battled for a playoff spot. Byrd had hits in six of his first seven games, hitting .333 (9-27) over the span. He was aggressive at the plate and in the field. He seemed to have found new life and was applying the things that Manuel had taught him. Byrd looked like the player that the Phillies were hoping he would be and looked like he might play a key part in the second half of the season.

That was then.

Since that early outburst, Byrd has hit just .196 (10-51). In the 15 games since his early streak, Byrd has struck out 13 times and has struck out a total of 16 times since returning from AAA. His overall average since returning to the Phillies is .244 (19-78), raising his season average slightly from .224 to .229. Perhaps the biggest disappointment has been the fact that he hasn't drawn a walk in any of the 22 games he has played in August. That, combined with his weak average, has dropped his overall OBP from .297 to .289 on the season. For someone with Byrd's speed, getting on base is what it's all about.

The effort is still there. Byrd has found a way to contribute with key hits in some spots, but hasn't done enough offensively to save his job long-term. Defensively, he has been very strong, making big running catches in key situations.

For basically three-quarters of his first two major league seasons, Marlon Byrd has struggled. A slow start in 2003 had him just days away from being optioned back to AAA before he suddenly put it all together and turned his season around in a dramatic way. His final half of last season was exactly what the Phillies expected from Byrd. When Byrd started slowly this season, some believed that maybe he was a clone of Ron Gant, who was always horrible early on before he would turn up the heat and catch fire by June. With Byrd's demotion to AAA and subsequent slow return, the Phillies now have to wonder if he is everything that they initially thought he would be as a major leaguer.

The Phillies will likely make a run at Carlos Beltran or perhaps, Steve Finley as free agents. Beltran is someone the Phillies have long coveted, but with Scott Boras as his agent, getting him to sign in Philly won't be easy. As for help from within, there simply aren't any major league ready centerfielders in the Phillies organization, so that's not an option.

When the offseason officially begins, centerfield will be somewhere on the list of Ed Wade's "to do" list. It will likely rank behind upgrading the pitching staff, but it will definitely be a major item that Wade and the Phillies will need to address.

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