Daulton back behind the plate _ for now
JOHN F. BONFATTI
Feb. 15, 1997
CLEARWATER, Fla. (AP) _ For the second year in a row, the Philadelphia Phillies will open spring training unsure what contributions _ if any _ weak-kneed Darren Daulton can make this season.
The difference between this year and last is that the Phillies aren't going to fool around trying to make Daulton, a catcher throughout his 17-year pro career, into an outfielder.
Manager Terry Francona said Friday that Daulton will begin spring training as a catcher and that the Phillies will use their six-week stay in Florida to see whether Daulton is healthy enough to stay there when the season opens.
The announcement came after a 25-minute meeting Daulton had with Francona and general manager Lee Thomas in Thomas' office at Jack Russell Stadium, the Phillies' spring training home.
``Tomorrow, he's going to show up as a catcher,'' Francona said as he waited for the team's pitchers and catchers to open spring training Saturday. Position players report Thursday.
``In a perfect world, he can catch and be your cleanup hitter,'' he said.
The Phillies could definitely use the latter. Negotiations with free agent outfielder Danny Tartabull, who would bat fourth and play right field, have stalled, and Philadelphia is in desperate need of power.
Daulton averaged 22 homers a season between 1992-94, but that was before he tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee during the 1995 season.
Previous operations on his left knee had weakened it to the point where Daulton relied almost exclusively on the right one. When the right one was injured, it limited his ability to run, squat and use his legs to drive the ball.
Daulton rehabilitated the right knee between the 1995 and 1996 seasons, and came into spring training last year intent of making the team as an outfielder. He said his knees couldn't take the wear of catching.
That experiment fizzled five games into the season when Daulton acknowledged his right knee was still too weak to play on, and that he was going back on the disabled list to try to strengthen it.
At the time, it looked like the 35-year-old Daulton's career was over, but after another off-season of strenuous rehabilitation, he told the team he thought he could catch again.
Daulton smashed line drives all over the batting cages Friday, but said he didn't want to talk about his situation until Saturday.
Both Francona and Thomas said they won't rush into any decision about Daulton's future.
``He has to prove ... how healthy he is by catching,'' Francona said. ``We need to make a decision on his catching at some point. We're looking for how he reacts the next day (after catching).''
``We're going to go out and see what happens,'' Thomas said. ``If he can come back and be the player he was before, of course he can help us.''
If Daulton can be the regular catcher, it would help the Phillies, but it would be another setback for Mike Lieberthal, the former first-round draft pick who was promised first crack at the starting catcher's job this year.
If the Phillies decide Daulton can't catch but still can hit, they could switch him to first, where he tried to play last year during a minor-league rehabilitation stint.
Then they'd have to find a place for Rico Brogna, the former New York Met they acquired in the offseason for pitchers Toby Borland and Ricardo Jordan.
Either way, a healthy Daulton is something the Phillies _ given their promotion of Lieberthal and the trade for Brogna _ weren't counting on in the offseason.
But Thomas won't mind a bit if his offseason plan didn't fall into place. He knows Daulton's on-field contributions are matched by his leadership in the clubhouse.
It's the kind of leadership Philadelphia rode to the 1993 NL pennant, and it's the kind of leadership the rebuilding Phillies will need desperately if they are to overachieve in 1997.