Notes: Lofton faces new challenge
Center fielder gets up close and personal with wall
PHILADELPHIA -- Though Kenny Lofton has spent 15 seasons as a Major Leaguer, he quickly acknowledges that each one presents a new set of challenges.This season, it's learning to deal with an unforgiving enemy -- the tricky area in center field, where an outfielder can meet an eight-foot-high wall. Playing in the American League last season, Lofton didn't have a chance to see Citizens Bank Park until this season. "The wall doesn't give," Lofton said. "That's unusual. It's like running into a brick wall, and that's not something outfielders want to deal with." Lofton dealt with the wall on a ball clobbered by Jose Guillen in the eighth inning. As it sailed over his head, Lofton stopped before he got to wall, and flinched as the ball hit off the 409-foot sign. With a padded fence, Lofton may have timed a leap in an attempt to catch the ball as he braced for impact. He won't try that here, and said it will take some time. "I'm not going to run into that wall," Lofton said. "I'm not stupid. I'm not going to kill myself. It's tough when you go after a ball at full speed. You want to go, but you tell yourself, I have to stop." Manager Charlie Manuel has seen Lofton master center field at Jacobs Field, so he figures he'll do the same in Philadelphia. "He's going to have to learn to play balls off there," said Manuel. "He gets a good break on the ball and turns the right way. He's going to have to get used to it." Burrell, Myers start off strong: Slowing down has meant fast starts for Pat Burrell and Brett Myers, who can only hope the rest of the season goes this well. In the first three games, Burrell is 6-for-12 with two doubles and a home run, and leads the team with six RBIs. Myers had a brilliant first outing, striking out seven and allowing one earned run in 6 2/3 innings. "I'm more relaxed," said Myers. "Hopefully, I can keep that up. I had success in the Minors by being aggressive and getting early swings. I'm trying to do what got me here." Ditto for Burrell, who has been besieged with advice during the past two seasons not to mention countless video sessions. Continuing to progress off his 37-homer performance of 2002 has been a challenge, to say the least. "[Burrell] has slowed his body down, and he's following the baseball more," said Manuel. "He doesn't get off balanced and stays behind the ball. The home run [on Wednesday] was a pretty swing." Manuel was also impressed with Burrell's two-strike approach in Monday's opener. "He hit it off the right-field wall," Manuel said. "He stayed with it real good and showed me something. He's staying with his legs in a good strong hitting position. That's allowed the bat head to get through the ball." "[Jim] Thome's the same way," said Manuel. "You can see the tension in his shoulders when he speeds up. You want to be tension free. Play the game to your ability. Play it like anything else, just stay within yourself. Easy to say but hard to do." The Wright stuff: Manuel sees a lot of Jaret Wright in Myers, a cocky kid with impressive stuff who needed time to put it all together. "He had basically almost the same type of makeup," Manuel said of Wright. "When he came to Cleveland, he was a lot like Brett; a guy who was a No. 1 pick, a No. 1 starter. It took him a while before he matured into what everybody expected of him." So much has been expected of Myers since he was drafted in the first round of the 1999 First-Year Player Draft. Arriving for good in 2002, he's shown flashes of brilliance. He throws hard, and his devastating curveball was on display in Tuesday's start. "I'm looking for a good season from Brett," said Manuel. "He has enough big league experience and he has the talent to be a very good pitcher. I've said that from the start. I like the stuff he has, and think it's just a matter of him keeping his self-control and he'll be good." Chatterbox: Manuel just can't help himself when it comes to chatting it up with players in the on-deck circle. And Mike Lieberthal couldn't help but listen. "Stay back, Lieby. Use your hands!" Lieberthal said, recalling Manuel's words of encouragement. "Make him keep the ball down." That's just the way it is with Manuel, who perches himself by the railing a few feet from the on-deck circle. It's the perfect spot for conversation, wanted or unwanted. "Eddie Murray used to tell me, 'I know, I know. Make the ball be down,'" Manuel said. "I said, 'OK, I won't tell you no more, and he said, 'Yeah, you will.'"
Ken Mandel is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.