Call them whatever you want, but the trio of left fielder Pat Burrell, center fielder Aaron Rowand and right fielder Shane Victorino are making it a really tough call for first- and third-base coaches.
Heading into Monday night's game with the Atlanta Braves, the Phillies outfield was tied with the Milwaukee Brewers for the Major League lead with 11 outfield assists. Burrell and Rowand were tied for the NL lead with three each, while Victorino is one back, tied for eighth.
"I think we've been making some good throws," said Phils manager Charlie Manuel. "Like Pat Burrell took a ball off the bottom of the fence the other day and made a heck of a good throw to second base. Victorino's been making some tremendous throws in right field, and Rowand's made a couple of good throws. We've been throwing the ball good and we've been keeping the ball down, so our cutoff guys can control it. We've gotten some big outs."
That execution has been especially good over the last eight games, as the outfield has chalked up five assists. The team is 6-2 in those games. But the trio isn't looking for credit. They're looking for guys to run -- daring them in fact.
"No question you want guys to go," said Victorino, who last season led the team with 11 assists. "You get that feeling, 'Go ahead, run.' It's part of the excitement that we have out there, besides running the ball down and catching the ball, throwing guys out brings that excitement out of you, that energy."
"It's something that, as an outfielder, you take pride in," he continued. "Assists to me show how you play the game in the outfield in regards to being agressive, charging the ball, trying to get good reads on balls off the wall. It shows how much, how good our defense in the outfield is."
Burrell believes some of the credit for their success goes to knowing their ballpark and the rest to knowing where you are in the game.
"A lot of it has to do with Philly and playing in a short park," said Burrell, who had eight assists last season and has 68 since 2000, the most among any National League left fielder. "In Philly, it's such a short park, we play regular depth there, while other teams guys play deeper. So we're going to get a lot more chances."
"You always want to be prepared," he added. "Half of the battle is knowing who's up, knowing the siutation and being prepared for it. Things that come up in games so you can make throws."
Rowand, who had six outfield assists last season, believes that people are starting to take notice.
"A lot of the coaches have noticed," he said. "I've just started noticing recently guys have not been running on us as much on base hits. It's definitely key in getting the pitcher an opportunity to get out of an inning. It's come in handy so far this season and with the work we've put in it's going to continue to help us."
The feeling is contagious according to Victorino.
"It's a lot of fun," he said. "When Pat throws a guy out, I want to throw a guy out. If Aaron throws a guy out, I want to throw a guy out. I'm sure if they see me throw a guy out, they want to throw a guy out. It's fun. It's exciting and it's something that you want to go out there and do. You want to do it because they had fun now let me go have fun."
It's not where you start ...: Remember agitation over the 2-7 start three series into the season?
Well, it's three weeks later and, beginning with Monday night's game, the Phils were only two games below .500 and on a 7-2 tear. The club's 11 April wins is tops during Manuel's tenure.
"We're playing better at the end," said Manuel. "I think we came out playing too hard. They definitely were wanting it. The biggest thing is to have them focus and relaxed. In order to focus and play your best, I'm a firm believer that you have to be relaxed and feel good and want to do things instead of have to do them. I think that coming out of Spring Training our guys definitely were wanting badly to get off to a good start and that might have hurt us some."
Manuel also credits the bullpen, which posted a 2.58 ERA (11 earned runs in 38 1/3 innings) over the last 11 games entering Monday and has allowed only one homer in 11 road games.
"That's played a big part of it," he said. "We lost some games early from down in the bullpen. The bullpen the last 10 days, two weeks has really picked up and gotten better. They're throwing more strikes and their stuff looks better, too."
On deck: The Philies and Braves play Game 2 of the three-game set Tuesday night at Turner Field, with a battle of lefties. Cole Hamels (2-1, 3.24 ERA) goes for the Phillies, while veteran Mark Redman (0-3, 10.13 ERA) takes the ball for Atlanta. First pitch is scheduled for 7:35 ET.
Jon Cooper is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.Less