Improved Bench Could Start With Ozuna

As the trade deadline starts to loom, the bench is one area that the Phillies will look to address. It's possible though that part of the solution could be found right on the infield at Lehigh Valley.

With the bench as an area of concern, the Phillies will likely make a few calls about some of the veteran players who might be available. And some of them could very well be veteran infielders, who could help in backing up Jimmy Rollins, Chase Utley and Pedro Feliz on the infield. The truth is though, that the answer to filling a hole on the infield could be as close as Lehigh Valley, where Pablo Ozuna is having a pretty decent season for the IronPigs.

Ozuna, who has played in all or parts of seven major league seasons, is hitting .291 with Lehigh Valley and performing well defensively. Most of his time this season has come as a second baseman, but he also switched spots with shortstop Jason Donald for a few days to give the younger player some time at second. The 35 year old Ozuna is somewhat underrated as a major leaguer, considering his .282 career average and his ability to play second, third, short and left and play them all adequately.

"You just have to play hard and forget about what you did before," said Ozuna prior to a recent game with Lehigh Valley. "I just focus on playing well and having fun, whether it's in the majors or here in the minors."

And at 35, Ozuna knows that his time for playing ball is on the down side and there may not be too many more chances to play in the majors. His approach though isn't shaped by his age. "I just play. At this stage, you always have to be ready and the only way to do that is to play," said Ozuna.

Recently, the Phillies had Miguel Cairo at the major league level and he was designated for assignment after he hit just .118 in 17 at-bats for the Phillies. There was some speculation that Ozuna might be getting a call, but even then, he wasn't sitting by his phone. "No, I don't think that way. You never know. Plus, I want to give other players respect. I don't hope for someone to fail," explained Ozuna.

Ironically, it turned out that Cairo wound up accepting a minor league assignment and is now an infield partner of Ozuna's for Lehigh Valley, with Cairo playing primarily at third base.

Still, there is room for another infielder at the major league level and there is also the looming possibility of Eric Bruntlett, who is hitting just .118 - the same that Cairo was hitting when he was chopped - being dropped from the roster.

With veterans Mark Grudzielanek (.290 career average), Ray Durham (.277 career average) and Damion Easley (.253 career average) all waiting for phone calls, the Phillies wouldn't seem to be one of the teams potentially calling any of them. Ozuna can at least rival what each of those players can do and he has the advantage of having been playing this season while the others have at least a decent layer of rust hanging on them.

As for Bruntlett, his career .234 average in the majors is no match for Ozuna. Bruntlett does hold the advantage of having grown, at least partially, into manager Charlie Manuel's comfort zone. Whether the Phillies would consider replacing Bruntlett with Ozuna remains to be seen.

Lehigh Valley manager Dave Huppert believes Ozuna could help a major league club, but he's also glad to have him in his lineup.

"He's already shown that he can play in the majors, so there isn't really a question about that," believes Huppert. "He's a steady player, who does his job and he's a guy we can depend on to help some of our younger players adjust to things and teach them some things."

And working with young players is something that Ozuna has enjoyed in his first minor league stint since 2004. Ozuna has worked to help Jason Donald to adjust to Triple-A ball and is impressed with what he's seen out of the infield prospect.

"I was impressed," said Ozuna of his double-play partner. "This kid [Donald] can really play baseball. Everyday, he comes to the stadium to play baseball. He's smart, he listens, he plays hard, he's always focused. For me, he can play baseball."

Even if the Phillies do find that right-handed bat they've been looking for to add to their bench, Ozuna would possibly give them another right-handed bat to help out. He also gives them insurance against an infield injury and could potentially at least be a September call-up to give Manuel another veteran to bring off the bench.

There's going to be a lot of speculation about acquiring a right-handed bat over the next few weeks and some of that speculation could potentially turn toward Lehigh Valley as Ozuna continues to show what he can do and may wind up peeking the imagination of the Phillies front office.

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