Saunders personifies Phillies' offensive struggles

Outfielder hits eighth as offense musters only three hits vs. Rockies

Saunders personifies Phillies' offensive struggles

PHILADELPHIA -- Phillies manager Pete Mackanin has tried to minimize frequent and drastic changes to his lineup this season because he knows his hitters prefer the familiar.

But he made an unexpected change to his lineup before Monday night's 8-1 loss to the Rockies at Citizens Bank Park. He hit Michael Saunders eighth after spending most of the season hitting him fifth and sixth. Saunders, who went 0-for-3 with one strikeout against the Rockies, is hitting .227 with six doubles, two triples, four home runs and 15 RBIs with a .656 OPS in 41 games.

He is hitless with five strikeouts in his last 14 at-bats.

Klentak discusses Phillies' disappointing start

"I put people in places where I think they're going to succeed," Mackanin said. "I know he's a better hitter than he's shown. But it is what it is. I'm hoping he's going to work his way back up through the lineup."

The Phillies signed Saunders to a one-year, $9 million contract in January. They believed he could solidify an offense that scored the fewest runs in baseball in 2016. They certainly figured he would boost their offensive production in right field. Phillies right fielders ranked last in baseball with a .634 OPS last season.

But if the lineup change surprised or frustrated Saunders, he did not express it.

"I've got a job to do, no matter where I'm hitting in the lineup," he said. "I know I haven't hit like I'm capable of. But that being said, I know I haven't dug myself such a deep hole where I can't get out of it. I'm confident in my routine. I'm confident in myself. I know I'm going to be where I want to be at the end of the year."

But it was striking to see the Phillies' most expensive offensive player hitting eighth, while the team's Nos. 1-7 on Monday make a combined $10.3 million.

"This is not specific to Michael by himself, but the reality is that this is a performance league," Phillies general manager Matt Klentak said. "Michael has struggled at times throughout the first couple months of the year, but I support Pete and whatever decision he is making as far as the lineup construction goes. At the same time we still have plenty of confidence that Michael is going to get himself out of this."

"I know it's a baseball cliché, but it's a marathon, not a sprint," Saunders said. "I just have to keep that in mind and keep grinding it out. I know I'm going to come out of it."

Todd Zolecki has covered the Phillies since 2003, and for MLB.com since 2009. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook and listen to his podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.