PHILADELPHIA -- Big leaguers need practice, too.
But organized infield and outfield work during the season had become so sporadic that any structured pregame practice at all stood out like a sore thumb. The Phillies picked up those sessions a bit following last season's July 31 Trade Deadline, but they typically were limited to the first game of every home series.
That is changing. They already had practices Friday and Saturday and have another scheduled Monday, as Phillies third-base coach and infield instructor Ryne Sandberg makes them part of the team's routine. He said they will be 20-minute sessions as needed and as he sees fit before home games.
"That's what I do," Sandberg said. "That's what I like to see happen. It's a stress on defense. It allows us to have time to work on things. It'll be something that will be stressed throughout the whole year."
The Phillies took ground balls regularly in the past, but it typically occurred during batting practice. Phillies manager Charlie Manuel calls this a more structured, more hands-on setup that allows for more discussion and teaching. The sessions are mandatory.
Manuel likes it.
"The fact it is more organized, it gives you time to talk to get your points across as far as mistakes we've made or things we want to improve on," Manuel said. "It's a little bit stricter coaching and I like that. I like everything about that."
But structured practices do seem to be a rare occurrence in baseball these days, not only with the Phillies, but every team.
"I don't think getting away from it is a good thing," Sandberg said. "Having it is a very positive thing. In my day we took infield every day, except for day games. I think it's something that's necessary to stay sharp and stay on top of things. We'll also have the outfielders join us and throw to the bases, probably twice a homestand or something like that.
"It's for everybody to stay sharp on defense. It's a big part of the game. To work on it and stress it becomes important."
Howard's slow start doesn't concern Manuel
PHILADELPHIA -- Ryan Howard had a rough afternoon before singling in the ninth inning Sunday at Citizens Bank Park.
The Phillies' first baseman had struck out three times in his first four at-bats. Even with the single, he is hitting .167 (4-for-24) with three RBIs, two walks and eight strikeouts in six games. He is still looking for his first extra-base hit.
"I think a lot of guys come out sometimes, you play two or three games, and if you don't hit a home run or don't have too many hits, I think all of a sudden, you start trying too hard," manager Charlie Manuel said. "I think he put together a good at-bat in the ninth inning. I think he'll be fine."
Michael Young's double in the fifth was the Phils' first extra-base hit from their No. 4 or No. 5 hitters in the first week of the season.
"We're going to score runs," Manuel said. "That's just the way it goes sometimes. We ended up scoring eight runs. If you score eight runs, you usually win the game."
Durbin, fellow relievers endure tough first week
PHILADELPHIA -- The Phillies' bullpen has a 7.79 ERA the first week of the season, and has allowed 10 of 11 inherited runners to score.
Right-hander Chad Durbin has allowed all five of his inherited runners to score. He replaced left-hander Cole Hamels in the sixth inning Sunday in a 9-8 loss to the Royals at Citizens Bank Park. He allowed two of Hamels' runners to score.
"That's kind of his spot," Philadelphia manager Charlie Manuel said of Durbin. "We're down by two runs. That's his spot. Durbin has been known at times to be kind of a slow starter. So has [left-hander Jeremy] Horst. That kind of happens sometimes. We've just got to play. Right now, we're pitching who we have. That's who we have right now."
The Phillies like right-hander Phillippe Aumont, whom they project as a late-inning reliever, but they believe he doesn't have the experience or consistency yet for that spot. Aumont pitched in a low-leverage situation in the ninth with the Phillies trailing by five. He allowed two walks, one hit, one balk and struck out two in a scoreless inning. He threw 28 pitches (14 strikes).
Frandsen had great teachers in pinch-hitting career
PHILADELPHIA -- Phillies manager Charlie Manuel has said countless times that pinch-hitting is one of the most difficult jobs in baseball.
If that is true, then he should have plenty of respect for Phillies infielder Kevin Frandsen. He hit a bases-loaded, two-out double in the bottom of the ninth inning to clear the bases to defeat Kansas City on Saturday, 4-3. Frandsen is a career .313 (15-for-48) pinch-hitter.
Frandsen said he had some good teachers.
"I've been fortunate enough to play with a lot of guys," Frandsen said. "Mark Sweeney was one of the best pinch-hitters of all time. When I played with the Giants, I got to play behind him. He always said, 'You think in advance. You always be prepared to hit. It's not whether you're going to hit here or here -- just be prepared to hit.' Especially in the ninth inning, it's one of those opportunities where you never know."
Frandsen said he takes pride in his pinch-hitting.
"I just feel like it's a huge part of the team," Frandsen said. "As a pinch hitter, it's a huge team at-bat. There's not too many times you go up there thinking 'Oh, I need a hit for myself.'
"Pinch hitting is about getting a hit for the team and getting on base for whoever is down there or driving guys in to win a game or start a rally. Usually the pinch-hitter is a guy going up there for the opportunity to help out."
• Manuel started Ezequiel Carrera in right field Sunday against the Royals. The only bench players not to make their way into the starting lineup at this point are Frandsen and Freddy Galvis.
• Frandsen's three-RBI walk-off hit Saturday was the first for the Phillies that wasn't a home run since Del Unser had a three-run walk-off double against the Padres on Aug. 21, 1973.
• The Phillies had 11 walk-offs last season, their most since 1991 when they had 13.
Todd Zolecki is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.