PHILADELPHIA -- Manager Charlie Manuel didn't wait long to make his first lineup tweak, as he switched Ryan Howard and Chase Utley hours before the Phillies opened the regular season. The lineup had been posted well before players arrived in the home clubhouse, and Manuel said he's been considering it for some time. He talked to both players and found no resistance. "If that's the lineup Charlie thinks is our best way to win, that's fine with me," said Utley, the Opening Day cleanup hitter. "As long as I'm in there."More
Manuel explained his reasoning as a way to guarantee Howard an at-bat in the first inning, and potentially get him an extra at-bat later in the game. He also cited that Utley might run a little more in the fourth spot, as opposed to when Howard followed him in the batting order. Digging deeper, No. 5 hitter Pat Burrell is 1-for-29 in his career against Atlanta starter John Smoltz, while Utley is 10-for-24 (.417), meaning Utley's presence at No. 4 might make it tougher for the veteran righty to pitch around the NL MVP. As for whether the move will last beyond Monday's game, Manuel remained noncommittal. "This is just something I want to see," he said. "There's not a whole lot of difference. I think it might help Ryan." While Utley probably won't club 58 homers regardless of where he hits, he'll make more contact than Howard. That will break up the strikeout-prone combination of Howard and Burrell and may allow for some flexibility, without giving up much power. "The fact that [Utley] hit 35 home runs and gets extra-base hits [was a factor]," Manuel said. "Plus, it frees Utley up to run more. Utley is capable of stealing 25, 30 bags on just an average year." Touching moment: Before the Phillies played their first game of 2007, the sellout crowd of 44,742 said goodbye to some family members. In a stirring tribute, the scoreboard displayed images of John Vukovich, Vern Ruhle, Cory Lidle, Johnny Callison and longtime organist Paul Richardson, five people associated with the organization who passed away since the close of the 2006 season. The loudest ovation went to Vukovich, who passed away on March 8 at age 59. "It was unbelievable," said Vince Vukovich, John's 26-year-old son. "After he's passed away, you realize how many people really loved him, as far as everything that's been written and the cards and letters we've received. It's been nothing but an outpouring of love, with people saying what a great guy he was. And he never tried to be. He never cared enough to care what people thought of him." And that's how so many former players came to love the man who specialized in tough love. More than 700 people attended his funeral, and are still sending support to the family. The Braves sent a card signed by the whole team and Barry Bonds sent a large bouquet. "The Barry Bonds is sending flowers," Vukovich said. "The big names from around the league. My father meant so much to those people." Vukovich, who now sells medical equipment for Eagle Health Care., was especially touched when he threw out the ceremonial first pitch on Monday to bullpen coach Ramon Henderson. "Presidents do that stuff, not ex-Minor League Baseball players," Vukovich said. Congratulations: Joe Bisenius had tossed his latest scoreless frame of the spring on Friday, and he felt his next stop would be Triple-A Ottawa. Bisenius just hoped he had made a favorable impression. As it turned out, he was right. A few days later, the 24-year-old right-hander was calling his parents with the news that he had made the Phillies' Opening Day roster as a member of the bullpen. Not bad for a kid who opened last season with Class A Clearwater, and ended it at Double-A Reading. "I must have made a good impression on Charlie and the front office," Bisenius said. "Coming into Spring Training, one of my main goals was to be one of the first callups from Triple-A. Leaving Florida, I thought I accomplished that. To find this out, it was a real pleasant surprise. I'm pretty happy." The hard-throwing right-hander posted a 1.50 ERA in 12 innings, allowing six hits and six walks while striking out 11. Manuel said he'll see plenty of action. "His last three outings are what really stood out," Manuel said. "He's worth a shot because of his talent. Baseball used to break guys in that way. You brought guys along, and you put them in the bullpen. He's that guy who, down the road, might really help us. This guy has the stuff to be here. He's one of our better pitchers, so why shouldn't we keep him?" Slider: Ryan Madson left Spring Training happy with his new toy, a slider he developed as a secondary off-speed pitch. It replaced his curveball, which never quite worked the way he intended. It was so good that even when he missed up in the strike zone, he hitters just popped it up. Edgar Renteria did more that on Monday, sending Madson's new toy over the fence for a two-run homer in the 10th inning. "All spring, I've probably gotten away with throwing 10 of those [sliders] up in the zone," Madson said. "This time, [Renteria] got a good pitch he could elevate. Right out of my hands, I knew it was up." When Kelly Johnson walked to start the 10th, Madson fired fastballs to a bunting Renteria, who fouled two of them off. He then went to the slider, since the bunt was off. "He had great success with it [in spring training]," Barajas said. "That pitch has worked well this spring, and I'm 100 percent confident in putting it down. It's a good pitch for him." Philling in: Monday marked the 125th season of Phillies baseball. ... Jimmy Rollins and Burrell each made their seventh Opening Day starts. ... Philadelphia has 13 players who weren't on the club last Opening Day. Coming up: After an off-day, lefty Cole Hamels will take on the Braves on Wednesday at 7:10 p.m. ET. The lefty posted a 6.10 ERA this spring in five Grapefruit League outings, and is 0-2 with 6.35 in two career outings against the Braves.
Ken Mandel is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.Less