Brandon Phillips is damned if he does, damned if he doesn’t.
After shredding his thumb on the night of July 9, Phillips has been on the disabled list. As impatient an athlete as the Reds have ever had when it comes to injury, Phillips’ stubbornness and all-around intensive work around the clock have allowed him to re-enter the Reds lineup just 40 days later. With a similar injury, Cardinals All-Star catcher Yadier Molina is still projected to be out for another three-to-four weeks.
It was on June 1 last season that Phillips took a fastball to the forearm in Pittsburgh, in which the sound was nearly audible in right field. There is no question that his arm was injured; yet Phillips kept trudging on.
Shredded by the media and a majority of the fan base for his career-low on-base percentage of .310, Phillips, one of the team’s most popular players was stunned. So much so, he has kept his word of not associating with the club’s media. Fans can harken back to the incident at the conclusion of last season that involved “Dat Dude” and C. Trent Rosecrans of the Cincinnati Enquirer, which involved some not so kind personal remarks.
Surprisingly, those very same folks who lambasted Joey Votto for not driving in enough runs; dismissed Brandon Phillips when he drove in a career-high 103 in 2013. The product of most of those walks drawn by Votto, Phillips had the bases stocked full of runners waiting to be driven in. If that meant going out of the strike zone to make contact with a pitch to get a runner in, then so be it, Phillips was going to do it.
Much in the same way that the team “needed” him last year (who else was going to play second base in the stretch of a pennant run?), his presence will once again have to be felt if the Reds are to make a miracle run in 2014.
Playing hurt makes a player equivalent to a modern day protagonist. Fans have been brainwashed over and over again by players from a prior generation that playing hurt is a symbol of pride, one in which fans will admire and praise unquestionably. In the curious case of Brandon Phillips, it is apparent they do not.
In a deal that was very nearly pulled off during the off-season, Brandon Phillips was almost a New York Yankee. There were some that were disappointed, but many could not wait to get the enigmatic Phillips out of the middle of “their” lineup.
Just as a reminder, Brandon Phillips is a four-time Gold Glove winner, three-time All-Star and a 30-30 (home runs and steals) man, all while playing the once obscure second base position. Outside of ol’ number eight Joe Morgan, it is not a stretch to believe the Reds current second baseman is the second best they have ever employed there in their 145-year history.
Phillips has admitted that his thumb is still hurt. Unfortunately, for him, that will not temper expectations the slightest. If Brandon returns and does not play at least to some roundabout form of his regular numbers, he will be laid over the coals for coming back too soon. (As if the fans were really pleased with watching Skip Schumaker and Ramon Santiago man the spot.)
In the worst-case scenario, Phillips may return and further injury the thumb. The Reds season is certainly not lost yet, but it is becoming a longer and longer shot with each passing loss that piles up.
The only true way Phillips can escape the criticism (or as he would say, “Haters”), is to knock the cover off the ball and continue to dazzle defensively. The latter seems as if it is a foregone conclusion, considering the resume he has put together. Although becoming a dominant hitter with pain awaiting after each swing seems like a lofty expectation.
First and foremost, Brandon Phillips is a competitor. He easily could have opted the route of the bench for many of the remaining 37 games, but he would rather try and possibly fail, than never try at all.
Which is why before Phillips is booed after a 0-fer, consider the fact that he wants to win as bad as anyone.