A little more than a week ago Chris Truby was making plans to potentially use utilityman Matt McConnell in the outfield in case there was an injury to one of the three outfielders Williamsport had on its roster.
That's a situation that no longer seems necessary. Since the Cutters called up Aaron Altherr from the Gulf Coast League late last week, Williamsport's once short-handed outfield is again a strength for a team sitting in first place in the Pinckney Division.
Altherr, Kyrell Hudson, Miguel Alvarez and Domingo Santana have combined to hit .271 for the Cutters this year, and that includes Hudson's .168 average. Altherr has fit right into the lineup, sometimes hitting second and other times sixth, since coming up.
"I'm happy with them but there's only three spots to play them," Truby said. "You try to keep everyone happy, and at the same time you try to give these guys the chance to win a ballgame. I'm pretty comfortable with all three out there."
Don't be fooled with this group, though, it's not just an offensive bunch. Hudson may be one of the best center field defenders in the New York-Penn League. Altherr has proven to be a plus fielder playing both center field and left field since joining the Cutters, and Santana has a cannon of a right arm.
The sentiment is that this is a complete group of players. It was a blow to the lineup when Dabbs got his call up to Low Class A Lakewood after a year and a half with the Crosscutters. But Altherr has delivered that contact ability to the top of the lineup. He's helped keep the spark going. And in Wednesday's come-from-behind win over State College the 6-fot-5 Altherr started the eighth-inning rally with a one-out, two-run single.
Altherr's .348 batting average would be the best on the team and tied for seventh in the New York-Penn League if he had enough at-bats to qualify. Instead, Alvarez's .333 mark leads the Cutters and is eighth in the NYPL.
"I don't know that it's ever easy to divide up the playing time because every day you come to the ballpark someone is mad because they're not playing," Truby said. "But that's a good thing. They should be mad. You kind of go with the feel of how guys are playing. You never want to take a hot guy out of the lineup. They're guys that can play multiple positions out there and be comfortable and do it. It's better than being short-handed, that's for sure."
Santana has proven himself through the first half of the season to potentially be the Cutters' most dangerous hitter, anchored into the No. 4 or 5 spot in the batting order. He's got three homers and 13 RBIs and is hitting .278. And while those numbers aren't overwhelming, he's a player who's fun to watch.
He's a 17-year old from the Dominican Republic who provided the go-ahead RBI double in Wednesday's game. He's hit some of the longest home runs at Bowman Field in recent memory with his three blasts this year.
Hudson doesn't quite fit into the category of the other three offensively. But he's started to find his stroke in recent games. He's picked up five of his 17 hits this season in his last six games. And in turn he's been able to utilize his biggest weapon - his speed.
It's a speed that is evident when he roams center field. He doesn't so much run to the ball as he glides to it. In the ninth inning of a win over Connecticut recently, he was shading toward right-center field but ranged all the way to the left-center field gap to track down a fly ball. A hit that had double written all over it was erased as a routine fly ball to Hudson.
"If it's got any kind of hang time, you're out," Truby said. "He's got tremendous closing speed on the ball. A lot of times he just makes it look too daggone easy because he just floats out there. Then when he turns on the jets, it's like oh my God."
The offensive side for Hudson will eventually come around. He's constantly working with hitting coach Jorge Velandia on small things in his swing. But he's found consistency recently in taking the ball to the opposite field.
And the more Hudson gets on base, the more he can utilize the speed on the basepaths that he utilizes in the outfield. Drafted out of high school during the 2009 draft, Hudson turned down scholarship offers to play baseball and wide receiver for the football team at Oregon State.
"He can pretty much cover gap to gap," Truby said. "Any time you get a chance to save runs, it's like driving in runs. His offense sometimes is his defense. He's the best center fielder I've seen in a long time in terms of tracking balls down. He's fun to watch and saves our pitchers."
FAMILIAR FACES: Truby is very familiar with the two minor league prospects the Phillies shipped to Houston - along with J.A. Happ - to acquire Roy Oswalt on Thursday. Shortstop Jonathan Villar played 11 games with the Crosscutters a year ago and hit .231.
Truby also dealt with outfielder Anthony Gose - who Houston then shipped to Toronto for minor league first baseman Brett Wallace - during spring training and instructional league.
"Both are talented players and both can run a lot," Truby said. "That's their big tool. Gose can play center with the best of them. There's a lot of talent there and it's a lot of talent to give up. But you have to give up something to get Roy Oswalt. Hopefully it propels the Phillies. It gives them three starters in (Roy) Halladay, (Cole) Hamels and Oswalt that are pretty good."
BACK BEHIND THE PLATE: Cameron Rupp has begun catching again for the Crosscutters after being forced into duty primarily as a designated hitter after suffering from a slight case of tendonitis in his right shoulder. Rupp said following Wednesday's game at State College that he was happy to be catching again.
Rupp made two strong throws to second base on stolen base attempts, and despite neither resulting in an out - one was a blown call, and the other throw was dropped by shortstop Edgar Duran - it showed that Rupp's arm appears healthy.
"He's a leader behind the plate," Truby said. "He can catch and throw and he does a lot of things to help a pitching staff. He's got that history behind him at Texas and being where he was drafted, we need him back there."
Rupp was a third-round pick out of the University of Texas where he was a three-year starter and never missed a game for the Longhorns. And because of that draft status and the aspirations the Phillies have for him, the Cutters' coaching staff is being cautious with him.
"He's going to DH (Thursday) then we'll try to work him in where he's catching a couple days in a row, give him a blow, and just be cautious with him," Truby said. "Getting a kid like that the easy thing to do is just plug him in there, especially since he never missed a game at Texas. But we want to be careful with him because he's had some recent history."
CLIMBING THE LADDER: Williamsport recalled left-handed pitcher Ervis Manzanilla from the Gulf Coast League on Thursday. He was 3-0 with a 2.16 ERA for the GCL Phillies in seven games and averaged a strikeout per inning.
Manzanilla is a converted positional player who is still new to pitching and working on his off-speed stuff, but has a live arm. Manzanilla may step into the Cutters' rotation, but that idea has not been set in stone, according to Truby.
"He's going to be fun to watch," Truby said. "He's someone we wanted to get up here and give a chance to pitch in real baseball situations. He's a student of the game and he wants to learn. He's excited and an energetic kid who's going to give us innings."