A printout of the latest All-Star balloting numbers lay on a box next to Brandon Phillips’ locker on Tuesday at Great American Ball Park. The Reds second baseman had to know exactly where he stood — leading all National League players at his position — and that’s probably one reason he didn’t want to talk about it.
Phillips, a 12-year veteran out of Redan High School in Stone Mountain, Ga., obviously didn’t want to jinx himself 56 hours before voting ends. He made the All-Star team in 2010 and 2011, but he has never started.
“I won’t think about it until it happens,” Phillips said.
Through Monday, Phillips had 3,411,839 votes, giving him a lead of 225,416 on the Cardinal’s Matt Carpenter. Phillips finished second to the Brewers’ Rickie Weeks in 2011 and placed fourth in voting in 2010.
A Twitter campaign with the “VotePhillips” hashtag might push him over the top this season.
“I know Brandon wants it,” Reds manager Dusty Baker said. “He’s accomplished a lot in his career. He might as well get one more. I’d like to see him get hot here so when they flash his numbers on TV, it looks representative of an all-star.”
Phillips slumped in June, hitting .209 with two home runs and 17 RBIs. Still he has nine more RBIs (63) than any other second baseman in baseball, and he’s tied for third in the majors in home runs (12) among second basemen.
“They put me in the four spot to drive in runs, and that’s my No. 1 thing,” Phillips said. “My goal is to drive in as many runs as possible. One goal I set for myself was to get 100 ribbies. That’s what I’m on my way to do. I’m not really paying attention to my batting average (.272) or on-base percentage (.3253). My job is to drive in runs. If you worry about driving in runs, those other numbers will come by themselves.”
Phillips also has excelled in pressure situations. He leads the majors in go-ahead RBIs (24) and game-winning RBIs (13).
Baker emphasized he wanted to keep Phillips in the cleanup spot all season when left fielder Ryan Ludwick dislocated his shoulder on opening day, and he has done that. Ludwick won’t return until August at the earliest.
“It’s all about getting clutch hits,” Phillips said. “Someone had to hit fourth. I stepped up to the plate. I said I would love to do it. It feels good just being in one position for a whole year until Ludwick gets back because I never did it before. Ever since I’ve been here, I’ve always been up and down the lineup. Now I’m hitting fourth. I just told everyone, ‘Let me be in a position for a whole year. You’ll never know what I can do.’ I’m proving to everybody I can hit cleanup.”
Phillips missed four games in the first week of June after getting hit on the forearm by a pitch in Pittsburgh. He was hitting .296 at the time, and his average dropped to .268 by the end of the month.
The Reds’ fortunes shifted as Phillips’ average dropped. They were 19-8 in May and 12-15 in June. They started July off on the right foot, beating the Giants 8-1 on Monday and 3-0 on Tuesday on the strength of Homer Bailey’s no-hitter and Phillips’ two-run home run, trimming Pittsburgh’s lead in the National League Central to four games.
“We’ve just been having bad luck lately,” Phillips said. “We haven’t been getting clutch hits. I haven’t been doing my job. All the time we’ve been losing is because of me. I’ve been playing hurt, and I haven’t been doing my job. I know a lot of people count on me to do my job. Right now I’m almost 100 percent healthy, so everything is going to start going back to normal, and we’re going to start getting more wins.”