When he checked into spring training, Chris Coste was a 33 year-old rookie thrilled for what might be his final chance to make a major league club. Coste took to the task at hand like a man on a mission, hitting clutch hits game after game in an inspired performance. Thanks to Coste, the Phillies were on a roll going into the season.
But Pat Gillick demoted him anyway. It had to be a difficult decision.
Coste took the move hard, since it suggested that politics and not performance determine the roster, which is only partially true. Business also comes into play. Players struggle to understand the moves of their GMs, but playing to win takes emotion and emotionally it makes no sense to cut a guy who just gave his heart and soul to make his team a winner. Crushed, Coste went into a deep funk to start his season at AAA. In 147 AB, Coste hit just .177.
Welcome aboard, Chris. You showed a lot of spark in Spring Training. And at .177 so far this season, you should fit in well on the Phillies bench, which, by the way, might also be called I-95.
What is up with the Phillies bench? Can they make just a little noise?
Besides Gonzalez, who finally bowed out after managing a weak.111 for the Phillies, Carlos Ruiz, Abraham Nunez and Chris Roberson are riding the interstate. As a group, the bench dogs have only one home run, a shot by David Dellucci, who rode the interstate into the second week of May. Ryan Howard doubled their output in one night when he was too sick to start but came off the bench to hit two home runs to win the game.
But there is reason for hope.
Dellucci's triple on Sunday confirms that he is finally adapting to his role. If he gets hot, he will help the Phillies immensely as the year goes on. Once Aaron Rowand gets back, Victorino will combine with Dellucci to make a strong pair on the pines. Dellucci makes for attractive trade bait because he really is good. Dellucci is probably worth more to the Phillies than teams are offering in exchange, but you can be sure Pat Gillick is listening.
Abraham Nunez has nothing to prove in terms of his skills after his past season in St. Louis, but he hasn't fit in well yet with the Phillies. Charlie Manuel needs to find a way to bring Nunez into the swing of things. Sending him up in pressure pinch-hitting spots over and over isn't the always best way to loosen a guy up. David Bell might bring a better approach pinch-hitting in the late innings than Nunez right now, so why not let Nunez start a few games that Bell will finish?
Carlos Ruiz will remain as long as Mike Lieberthal stays on the DL. As a catcher, he's been tremendous. As a hitter, he gets a free pass for at least his first hundred at bats. Ruiz tore it up in AAA, leading the league in hitting before he was called up. The Phillies might have a real gem in Ruiz and he should be given plenty of time to fit in until he takes over for good next season. Pitchers have responded particularly well to Ruiz behind the plate.
Chris Roberson came up to fill in for Aaron Rowand after "The Catch". But when Aaron Rowand comes back, it may just be Coste that is demoted. Roberson hasn't shown much flair with the bat so far, but he has hit the ground running. Fleet footed, Roberson made several great fielding plays look easy. When he did reach base, he sailed around the bases like a cup-winning yacht. Speed and defense tend not to slump and are terrific assets in those late-inning October games. And Roberson may yet become a threat in the batter's box.
It will be interesting to see who the Phillies send back to AAA when Rowand returns. As soon as he does the bench will be stronger and the Phillies will try to make a move on the Mets.