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Bruntlett feels more at home with Phillies this season

Bruntlett feels more at home with Phillies this season
BALLPLAYERS ARE not immune from the everyday pressures that face their fellow human beings. They are paid handsomely, and cheered fiercely, and chronicled with the type of attention atypical of most vocations.But every now and then, as Eric Bruntlett discovered last season when he was shipped from the Astros to the Phillies in a trade that also brought closer Brad Lidge to town, they are no different from the new kid in school."It's tough," Bruntlett said on Wednesday, 2 hours before he and the rest of his teammates received their World Series rings in a pregame ceremony at Citizens Bank Park. "You're trying to establish with your teammates, with your coaches, with your fans, whoever. You know: 'Here I am.'

"Last year, Bruntlett was the kid who showed up on the first day of class with way too much styling gel in his hair. Thrust into the spotlight at Shea Stadium in the ninth game of the season thanks to an ankle injury suffered by defending NL MVP Jimmy Rollins, the 31-year-old utility man made two costly errors at shortstop in an 8-2 loss to the Mets. The next night, he left seven men on base while going 0-for-6 with two strikeouts, the last of which occurred when he failed to get a bunt down that would have moved the go-ahead run to third base with one out in a game that was tied in the top of the 11th.The Phillies also lost that game, and when the club returned home to face the Chicago Cubs , Bruntlett found himself a member of a hardly exclusive club: the subject of scorn at Citizens Bank Park.As the season wore on, however, the boos subsided, and while Bruntlett hit just .217 during the regular season, he found himself an unlikely postseason hero when he scored the winning runs in Games 3 and 5 of the World Series.Although he finished the postseason with just six at-bats, he managed to squeeze out three runs and a home run. And 5 months later, he seems to still be riding the momentum.Bruntlett led the Phillies this spring with a .355 batting average and seven steals and drove in 14 runs while spending much of the Grapefruit League season hitting in the top half of the order."It definitely makes a difference," Bruntlett said. "I don't feel like there is as much of a need to try to impress. It's not like you are going out there trying to do more than what you should be doing. I mean, I'm not going to go out there and hit a ton of home runs. I'm not going to hit .400. I'm not going to do that. So why would I go out and try to do that?"The Phillies did not acquire Bruntlett for his offense. In 5 years with the Astros, he hit .250 with a .323 on-base percentage in 539 plate appearances. In seven minor league seasons, he never hit higher than .278.Bruntlett's meal ticket always has been his defensive versatility. In his early years with the Astros, manager Jimy Williams - who went on to become the Phillies' bench coach - encouraged him to expand his abilities beyond his natural position at shortstop. Entering this season, Bruntlett had played at least one major league game at seven of the nine positions on the field. And although it is unlikely, he could add an eighth at some point now that the Phillies are considering him as an emergency catcher.While Bruntlett says the perception of him as a defense-first player is not one that he is trying to shake, he does work hard to make sure offense isn't an afterthought. He is a frequent participant in early batting practice, and remains hopeful that the future might someday bring with it a job as an everyday player."I try to do as much as I can practicewise, getting ready, preparation, that kind of stuff," he said. "When we have early BP, I try to be out there. And in the cage, I'm in there a lot."I don't know what more you can do other than to perform on the field. You try to do whatever you can to try to catch somebody's eye and get out there more."While it would be an overstatement to say that Bruntlett has turned himself into a go-to bat on the Phillies' bench, he has thus far carried his spring success into the regular season. On Opening Night, he doubled and later scored the only run in a 4-1 loss to the Braves. In the Phillies' dramatic, 12-11, come-from-behind win over the Braves on Wednesday, his RBI sacrifice fly in the eighth inning proved to be the decisive hit after closer Brad Lidge surrendered a solo home run to Matt Diaz in the top of the ninth."It's the best I've felt in quite a while," Bruntlett said, "to be able to put together a couple weeks worth of going out there and hitting good, having confidence, being relaxed up there."Sometimes, not being new can make all the difference.Reliever signedThe Phillies announced the signing of righthanded reliever Tyler Walker to a minor league contract yesterday. Walker, who turns 33 in May, posted a 3.86 ERA in 80 appearances for the Giants over the last two seasons and was 5-8 with a 4.56 ERA in 2008. He will add to the Phillies' bullpen depth at Triple A Lehigh Valley. *For more Phillies coverage and opinion, read David Murphy's blog, High Cheese, at

Author:Fox Sports
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Added: April 10, 2009

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