The Chicago White Sox owe it to themselves to use this lost season to gauge their expectations for future performance of some key young players. Among the most important of those players is Josh Phegley, who made his Major League debut on Friday. It's already been confirmed that Phegley isn't tabbed for strict back-up duties, and that's a good thing.
‘‘He's here to play,'' manager Robin Ventura said. ‘‘He's earned the right to come up, and that's part of playing well in Triple-A. He's earned a promotion, so tonight he's in there.''
With Paul Konerko unavailable, Robin Ventura has used the opportunity to get Jeff Keppinger into the batting order more often. While Keppinger is swinging a hot bat, his presence in the lineup is not going to push the White Sox into contention and his plate appearances contribute little to the future of the team. As an established veteran whose season batting line won't drum up any lucrative trade offers, Keppinger is possibly the least important regular to have in the lineup right now. It would be more productive to use the DH slot to give more plate appearances to Josh Phegley.
The managerial concerns about playing the second catcher in the DH slot are obvious and twofold. First, the starting catcher may get hurt. It happens so infrequently that a given player, even a catcher, is unable to finish a game due to injury that this should not be of any concern. Flowers has proved durable thus far in his brief career and hasn't been lifted due to injury all season. Second, and more significantly, it creates some inhibition to the manager's ability to pinch-hit or pinch-run for the starting catcher. Flowers runs fairly well for a catcher and has been lifted for a pinch hitter five times this season. Three of those instances were DeWayne Wise or Jordan Danks, so safe to say the Sox could live with Flowers batting for himself.
Still, with Keppinger's emerging usefulness with the lumber, the Sox find themselves in a position going forward in which there should be a competent pinch hitter on the bench for each game. Even with Phegley at DH, Ventura should still pinch-hit for Flowers at will. Phegley would have to slide to catcher and allow the pitcher to take his place in the batting order, but this shouldn't be a deterrent because situations that merit pinch hitters are typically late in the game. In all likelihood, the White Sox would be using their bullpen by the time the pinch hitter is necessary and it's doubtful that the pitcher's spot in the batting order would come up more than once for the remainder of the game. There are situations in which using the second catcher at DH could cause an issue, but they are few and far between. And given the current standings, there's no real reason to fret if a bullpen pitcher winds up swinging the bat in the 14th inning.
Fortunately, Robin Ventura seems open to the idea of putting a catcher at designated hitter. He started AJ Pierzynski at DH 5 times last year, and this was in the heat of a pennant race. Ventura's predecessor was not so creative. In 2010, Ramon Castro hit .278/.328/.504 with 8 home runs in 128 plate appearances. Despite Castro's welcome showcase of power, Ozzie Guillen never penciled in Pieryznski nor Castro into the DH spot of the lineup, and this was during a season in which there was no established DH on the team.
Ventura already made a bold statement about his intent to play Josh Phegley by putting him in the lineup for his first game on the roster. All indications thus far are that Ventura intends to split catching duties between Flowers and Phegley. If Ventura wants to elevate Phegley's role without further reduction to that of Flowers, there's a way to do so. All it takes is being a little unconventional. Fortunately, Ventura has shown a willingness to think this way, and that precedent gives hope that we may see Josh Phegley's name penciled into the lineup more often than not.