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Phillips’ career gains speed

Kyle Phillips was ready to quit baseball and sell cars for a living after being released in March 2007 for the second time in his burgeoning career.

Phillips has an offseason job at a Cadillac dealership in his hometown of San Diego, and he was prepared to accept a full-time position when his brother, former big leaguer Jason Phillips, helped arrange a tryout for Kyle with the Toronto Blue Jays.

After some soul-searching, Phillips decided he wasn’t ready to give up on professional baseball and headed to spring training with Toronto.

“I didn’t want to look back and say I never gave it a shot,” said Phillips, who signed with Toronto four days after his release by Milwaukee. “I couldn’t give up on baseball.”

Phillips hit a home run on the first pitch he saw in spring training with the Blue Jays in 2007 and has stayed hot at the plate since then. He hit a career-best .306 at Single-A Dunedin (Fla.) in 2007 and matched that mark last year at Double-A New Hampshire.

Despite a slow start this season, when he hit .175 in 12 games for New Hampshire, Phillips got his first promotion to Triple A and has taken advantage of it. He is hitting a team-leading .354 for the 51s with three home runs and 11 RBIs in 31 games and is hitting .463 at Cashman Field.

“Ever since I’ve been with the Toronto Blue Jays, things have just kind of clicked,” said Phillips, a 6-foot-2-inch, 220-pounder who started at catcher Saturday and went 2-for-3 with a solo homer and a walk in Las Vegas’ 9-2 home loss to the Tacoma Rainiers.

A 10th-round draft pick by the Minnesota Twins in 2002, Phillips hit higher than .236 only once in four minor league seasons while struggling to switch positions from first base to catcher.

“I didn’t put up good numbers, but it was all a learning process,” he said.

When the Twins released Phillips after the 2005 season, he signed with the Brewers and hit .236 in Single A in 2006. But despite losing 40 pounds before spring training in 2007, he was released in late March.

“I was in the best shape of my life and didn’t get a chance,” he said. “That leaves a bad taste in your mouth, but I look back now and it was the greatest thing that ever happened to me.

“I joke around with some of the guys here that I’m battling with two strikes. I’ve fouled off a few pitches the last few years, being released twice, and I’m still here.”

Phillips, who had seven straight hits in one stretch for the 51s, is listed as a catcher, but with Toronto’s No. 3 prospect, J.P. Arencibia, getting most of the starts behind the plate, Phillips has spent most of his time at third base.

“Kyle’s a very valuable player. He can catch, play first and third base, and a little left field in a pinch,” 51s manager Mike Basso said. “He appreciates every day he has in a uniform. He’s been released before and fought his way back.”

If Phillips continues his hot hitting, he might soon realize his goal of reaching the majors. But if he doesn’t, the automobile aficionado always can make a living selling Cadillacs, which he has done for the last five offseasons.

“I’ve always had a passion for cars,” Phillips said. “Most people say, ‘You’re a car salesman?’ But I’ve made a pretty good living with that in the offseason.”

Contact reporter Todd Dewey at tdewey@ reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0354.

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