PHILADELPHIA — These days, Reid Brignac speaks about the game of baseball in terms of playing a different role and reaching the next level.
At age 28, Brignac can likely see baseball’s crossroads in his sights, but he still believes there’s still some room left on the game’s highway. A reserve utility infielder with Philadelphia, Brignac has struggled at the plate most of the season as he was hitting .225 with one homer and 10 RBIs in 36 games heading into the weekend’s play.
The former St. Amant High School standout and current Gonzales resident’s lone homer was a game-winning three-run shot against San Diego on June 11. He also was an adequate replacement for starting third baseman Cody Asche when Asche was sidelined for 10 days during the same period.
But Brignac’s days when he was a top prospect and budding star with the Tampa Bay Rays during the 2010 and 2011 seasons apparently may be behind him. After a slow start in 2012, Brignac was banished to Triple-A before he was sent to Colorado, where he began his role as a utility backup.
Last season, Brignac signed with the New York Yankees as a replacement for an injured Derek Jeter, but he soon fizzled and found himself back in Colorado’s minor league system.
During the winter, Brignac decided to sign with the Phillies, knowing they had a set middle infield and the upcoming Asche in play. So far, it has been a practice of patience as he has worked to develop his new added role as an effective pinch-hitter. He is just 2-for-13 this season as a pinch-hitter, but 13-for-60 overall in his career.
Brignac also spent 30 games with the Phillies’ Triple-A team, where he smacked five homers and knocked in 21 runs and hit a solid .284 at shortstop. He also missed some time with a high ankle sprain.
Being with his fourth team in his seven-year career, Brignac has learned to appreciate the moment despite the club’s basement dwelling and his lack of consistent playing time. Brignac was hitting .258 in mid-July, but he has just one hit in his last 14 plate appearances (.071) over a 30-game span.
“I knew (Philadelphia) was a solid organization, and I figured I would get a chance to play here,” said Brignac recently. “This has been a first-class organization with a rich history. I knew my role when I signed here. Each organization has been different and they all have treated me fairly.
“Sure, I would like more playing time, but I’m happy here. I find myself studying pitchers’ traits more and that helps me keep ready when I am called on to play.”
Spending time on the bench has helped him become more of a student of the game, and Brignac hopes to expand that role in the future.
“I have been studying pitchers, and you can see how they develop patterns,” he said. “That is something I didn’t see before. I also speak more with guys like Marlon Byrd and Grady Sizemore, veteran guys who have spent time on the bench and been good pinch-hitters. They have taught me some things about the game.
“I’ve had over 60 plate appearances as a pinch-hitter now and can prepare myself differently. I’m looking more for good pitches as the first pitch. A fastball usually comes across as one of the first pitches.
“I’m trying not to think too much and react to the game. I don’t want to lose touch with everything if I am slumping.”
Brignac also has been grateful for his teammates’ support.
“I like to pick the brains of guys like Jimmy Rollins and Chase Utley,” he said. “I also have been fortunate to be around players like Derek Jeter and Evan Longoria. People don’t realize how much they know about the game.
“He’s still young and has the ability,” Henderson said. “If he can get his stroke back, he has always been able to catch the ball. He was one of the better shortstops (in the minors) at the time. He just has to get that bat going.”
“I also have found out that preparation is a big key. Most people think we are here at 5 (p.m.) and then play a game at 7. I’m usually here at 1 for a night game and I’m watching film and doing other things.”
Phillies hitting coach Steve Henderson was a roving hitting instructor with Tampa Bay in 2006 and remembered watching Brignac flourish in the California League when he hit .326 with 21 homers and loomed as an effective left side of the infield with Longoria. The duo was reunited this spring when Brignac arrived early in spring training.
Henderson still said Brignac can be a steady contributor.
“He’s still young and has the ability,” Henderson said. “If he can get his stroke back, he has always been able to catch the ball. He was one of the better shortstops (in the minors) at the time. He just has to get that bat going.
“He could hit the ball out of the ballpark, but he could give you a good at-bat, too. He could hit the ball in the gap. That was one of the good things about him … he had his power in the gap.”
“He’s a veteran who knows what to do,” Phillies manager Ryne Sandberg said. “He has stepped in and helped us with his glove and also had some key hits.”
Whether he regains his power, Brignac has apparently taken a page from Henderson’s repertoire. He someday would like to be a roving infield instructor in the minor leagues. Brignac already has offered some fielding tips to Asche, who is adjusting to his role at 24.
“Staying in the game in that fashion would definitely be a possibility for me,” Brignac said. “I have spoken to my fiancée, Lauren, about it. I wouldn’t want to manage, though, and I don’t know about being a coach either. That’s really too much traveling.
“Cody (Asche) and I talk about the game and he is always looking for an edge. Over the past couple of years, I have studied the game more and this would be a way of giving back.”
Brignac also hasn’t lost track of his roots. He continues to work out with longtime trainer Mack Chuilli at Traction Sports Club in Baton Rouge. He also stays in contact with Bob Lemons, his high school coach who recently was named a pitching coach at Dutchtown High School.
Brignac also doesn’t have any regrets choosing to sign with Tampa Bay in 2004 despite having some college football offers because of to his stellar play as a wide receiver.
“It’s important to me to stay in touch with home,” Brignac said. “Too many people back home helped me get here and I don’t want to forget them. Baseball has always been my first love and I’m glad to be playing.
“I’d like to work with players someday at the high school level or above. I want to be able to give back what I have learned and I feel like I have a lot to give.”
Whenever that times approaches, Brignac won’t be disappointed or disappoint too many people.