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Gwynn's defense, versatility may help him onto roster

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CLEARWATER, Fla. -- The Phillies need to finalize their bench before Opening Day on March 31, and Tony Gwynn Jr. is making a case to be one of the team's extra outfielders.

He went 2-for-4 in Sunday's 5-0 loss to the Pirates at Bright House Field. He is hitting .273 (6-for-22) with two doubles, one RBI, five walks, two stolen bases and a .448 on-base percentage. He has particularly impressed Phillies manager Ryne Sandberg with his defense, which is something the Phillies could use.

"I think that's his strength, his outfield defense at three outfield positions," Sandberg said. "I like what he's doing. When you're talking about a late-inning defensive guy, a big bunt late in the game, pinch-running and stealing a base, all those things. He can definitely play center field as a starter. He's doing a good job. He's fighting for a job."

The Phillies are likely to carry an extra hitter at the beginning of the season, because they do not need five starters until April 14, which is 13 games into the season. Catcher Wil Nieves and infielder Freddy Galvis are locks. Infielder Kevin Frandsen is a smart bet. That would leave two spots for outfielders Gwynn, Bobby Abreu, John Mayberry Jr. and Darin Ruf.

Gwynn and Abreu are the only two left-handed bats in that equation. It could be one or the other, although Sandberg indicated there are roles for both.

"Sometimes there's two jobs there," Sandberg said. "There's a left-handed bat off the bench with pop, the ability to drive in two runs. That's a guy. Then there's a guy that goes in, pinch-runs, gets into scoring position and is the guy that scores the run with a stolen base, scores from first on a double, scores from second easily. For me there's two jobs there in some ways. Now if you have a right-handed bat that handles right-handed and left-handed pitching, that's a guy.

"I think Gwynn is a nice piece in a National League game with all the things he does."

Todd Zolecki is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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