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Phillips finds new life for Pittsburgh

By Jenifer Langosch

mlb.com

SARASOTA, Fla. — Andy Phillips knows that he is not alone in his pursuit for one of the Pirates’ final two bench spots.

But the 32-year-old would like to believe that he has some intangibles that make him an appealing choice for a utility role.

Standing out on Phillips’ resume would have to be his versatility, one of the factors behind the Pirates initiating contact with him the day he became a free agent.

Phillips can play across the infield, and he has felt “surprisingly comfortable,” to use his words, in his career outfield appearances as well.

However, Phillips hopes his statistics don’t have to tell the whole story.

“I hope it’s the versatility that impresses, but I hope it’s other factors,” Phillips said. “I hope it’s how I approach the game. I hope there is some background. I’ve come from a place where the expectation is to win and to win everything. I’ve been fortunate to learn from some of the best in the game [while] playing with some of those guys.”

After being drafted by the Yankees in the seventh round of the 1999 First-Year Player Draft, Phillips spent the next eight seasons in the organization under those expectations to win. That’s also when his journey around the infield began.

Though he was drafted as a shortstop out of the University of Alabama, Phillips’ body size and makeup left him more suited to be a third baseman — where he was first placed.

Phillips also played a lot at second base, giving the Yankees some options.But then New York signed Alex Rodriguez.

Obviously, a future as a Yankees third baseman was out of the question for Phillips. And soon after, Robinson Cano established himself as the team’s big league second baseman.

From there, first base became the position of choice for Phillips, who saw a platoon situation with the left-handed-hitting Jason Giambi as his best opportunity to establish himself in the Majors.

As it turns out, Phillips did get most of his opportunities at first after breaking into the big leagues in 2004. He spent the entire ‘06 season in the Majors, but he hit just .240 with seven homers and 29 RBIs in 246 at-bats.

After that, Phillips found himself once again shuttled back and forth between Triple-A and the Majors in 2007 and ‘08. His ‘08 season was split between the Reds and Mets’ organizations, his first year outside of the Yankees’ organization.

“It’s no secret that when you’re 30 years old and you’ve kind of bounced back and forth because of a lack of opportunity, then you just have to try and find places to fit,” Phillips said. “There’s no question that it makes it a little more difficult, but that’s the reality of the situation. You just deal with it.”

Phillips is hopeful he’ll find that fit in Pittsburgh.

“All their conversations have been very consistent,” Phillips said of his talks with the Pirates’ management. “They asked that I come in and show them that I can do the little things, be a good teammate, that I can play all those positions aptly and to see that I can play the game the right way. And those are things that I know I’m capable of doing.”

The Pirates are certainly intrigued by his past, most pointedly his extensive experience at a number of positions. In addition to his journey around the infield, Phillips has also taken to playing the outfield, too. That would give the Pirates even greater versatility should Phillips break camp with the team.

But again, Phillips believes his appeal can go beyond his versatility.

For one, the utilityman is confident his work with hitting coach Don Long has put some new life into his swing. Long encouraged Phillips not to choke up so much on the bat, something Phillips had begun doing last year without consciously noticing.The adjustment of his hands has the veteran seeing pitches longer, and it has also eliminated some of the excess movement in his stance and swing.

“I felt like all year last year, offensively, I was fighting to find a consistent swing, which was new territory for me,” Phillips said. “This year, within a couple of days of working with Donnie, we’ve really found some stuff that has me excited about the direction my swing is heading.”

And then there is simply his willingness to do whatever, wherever. Phillips fully understands that to make this team, he would have to do so as a backup, and he’s fine with that.

Phillips also knows he’ll continue to be shuffled around the diamond as needed. He’s more than willing. Phillips is just seeking another chance.

“Whatever they ask me to do, I’ll be as prepared as I need to be,” Phillips said. “If that’s playing every day, if that’s standing over there and being a good teammate, whatever it is. But I know that I can contribute on the field as well as in the clubhouse. I know that I can do that. I’m excited about the opportunity, and I know personally that there is a lot that I can bring to this team.”