Manuel Not So Into Church Anymore

When Ryan Church suffered a concussion late last May he was batting over .300, was among the team leaders in home runs and RBI, and playing great defense in right field. Over the following month he played sporadically, mostly spending time on the disabled list, and his offense was sorely missed. 

Church came off the DL in late June, and the then recently-crowned manager Jerry Manuel immediately reinserted him as a starter, calling the right fielder one of the organization's "nucleus guys." Unfortunately, Ryan would only play a handful of games before landing on the DL again, then only to return for a punchless final six weeks. It was never clear whether the injury ruined a breakout season in the making, or if the hot start was just an anomalous blip on an otherwise lackluster résumé.

Now on Sunday the "gangsta" Manuel squeezed off a couple of caps in the general direction of Church's feet, announcing that the all-but-a-rookie Daniel Murphy will be an everyday starter in left field. Then adding, "Also, with Church being a left-handed hitter, I kind of see Murphy being a better hitter right now at this time," insinuating that it's Church who will have to prove himself the most this spring. Kind of harsh, almost like Jerry is ripping the stripes off Church after promoting him last season.

Murphy -- who misses qualifying for the 2009 Rookie of the Year award by just one at bat -- has been a critics' darling since shining as one of the few bright spots in the Mets Oscar-caliber tearjerker of a stretch run last fall; it's difficult to root against him getting more of an opportunity. But all the good hitting and hard-nosed hustle the young Murphy has shown was over approximately the same sample size of at-bats Manuel had gotten from Church when he anointed him as part of the organization's core. It's got to feel a little like insult upon injury for the concussed Church.

This early in spring training, such moves amount to little more than the motivational approach Manuel thinks appropriate for the moment; and as lefties both Murphy and Church figure to see the majority of at-bats whether there is a platoon or not. Still, it's an early trend indicator of Manuel's ruthless what-have-you-done-for-me-lately managerial approach for the 2009 season.

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