CLEARWATER, Fla. -- Freddy Galvis' crash course at second base had not even begun a year ago at this time.
It was a position he had never played before, but in just four weeks he aced the examination and provided the Phillies with Gold Glove defense for two-plus months before his season came to a crashing and crushing halt.
The three-month stretch Galvis went through from March 9, which was his first spring-training game at second base, through June 6, his final game of the season, was dizzying and dazzling.
Thanks to Chase Utley's creaky knees, Galvis went from triple-A shortstop to opening-day second baseman at the speed of light. He made just one error and countless spectacular plays in 45 games at the position. Some, including Phillies general manager Ruben Amaro Jr., would argue that Galvis played second base so well that the impact of his season-ending back injury was among the more devastating gut punches the team absorbed during a disastrous first half of the season.
"We were .500 until Freddy went down and then Halladay went down, too, and we kind of blew up," Amaro said. "We lost about four or five games just on defense alone right after that, and it really hurt."
The Phillies were 28-29 and treading water when Galvis winced in pain during a fifth-inning plate appearance against the Los Angeles Dodgers June 6. His fractured back was followed by five losses in six games that started an overall tailspin from which the Phillies could not recover.
Amaro was criticized for failing to acquire enough offense to compensate for the prolonged absences of Utley and Ryan Howard, but the general manager had a different view of the Phils' midseason collapse.
"Everybody clamors for the offense, but the fact of the matter is for us to stay afloat, we have to be a good defensive team and catch the ball for our pitching staff," Amaro said.
That just didn't happen after Galvis was lost for the season. Manager Charlie Manuel remembers the weekend series in Baltimore right after he lost the second baseman.
"We kind of went downhill when Freddy went down," Manuel said. "That Baltimore series, everybody says we should have swept them. Why didn't we? We didn't catch the ball."
Galvis' bad dream became an absolute nightmare less than two weeks later, when he received a 50-game suspension for testing positive for the banned anabolic steroid Clostebol. He wasn't playing, and he wasn't being paid.
At the time of the suspension, Galvis said in a statement that "a trace amount of a banned substance -- 80 parts in a trillion -- was detected in my urine sample. ... I cannot understand how even this tiny particle of a banned substance got into my body."
The 23-year-old Venezuelan described it as the worst time of his life.
Earlier this spring, Manuel let catcher Carlos Ruiz know how upset he was for failing a drug test that has him facing a 25-game suspension at the start of this season. The manager said he did not feel the same way about Galvis.
"When I listened to Freddy's situation, it was different," Manuel said. "It doesn't sound like he had any kind of idea what was in his system."
Galvis said he is fully recovered from the back injury. Manuel sees the same player now as he did a year ago, a guy with a great glove and a growing bat. Playing shortstop on Thursday, Galvis tripled and scored a run in five at-bats.
The infielder's situation this spring could not be any more different.
"Last year I was just practicing to be a regular second baseman," Galvis said. "Now, I'm trying to make the team by playing three positions."
A natural shortstop, Galvis had never played third base before Wednesday, but you get the feeling he could catch and throw a baseball blindfolded from any of the infield positions.
Officially, Amaro is saying that Galvis is competing with minor-league free agent Yuniesky Betancourt and Kevin Frandsen for two extra infielder jobs. Given how much the Phillies have bemoaned last year's defensive issues, it's hard to imagine Galvis' being left off the 25-man roster. Playing less, he could be more valuable this season than last because Manuel can use Galvis to rest Utley, third baseman Michael Young, and shortstop Jimmy Rollins. In each case, even at shortstop, it would mean an upgrade defensively.
"He's going to be a big part of our defense," Manuel said. "He should get enough at-bats that it will be beneficial for him in the future."
(c)2013 The Philadelphia Inquirer
Visit The Philadelphia Inquirer at www.philly.com
Distributed by MCT Information Services