These late season doubleheaders aren’t helping the Phillies’ worn-to-the-bone bullpen and might finally force manager Charlie Manuel to use all available hands a little more liberally. The corresponding argument would be that the untested youngsters he likes to avoid cannot do much worse than the overworked arms Manuel has called on repeatedly. Of course, everyone – young and old – would benefit considerably if the starters could give them six, preferably seven innings of work each time out.
Randy Wolf and Jon Lieber get the calls tonight as the Phils face the Braves twice. Wolf is in the odd position of being the freshest arm in the starting rotation by virtue of having only recently come back from surgery. He has yet to go deep into a ballgame but not as far as can be determined because of tenderness. In nearly every one of his outings Randy has gotten off to a rough start, throwing a lot of pitches early, and while he has generally settled down in innings 2 – 5 to pitch well enough, he is clearly on a pitch count that runs up too early too fast. Nothing would help him or the Phillies more than a few 1-2-3 innings tonight.
Of all the Phillies’ starters lately, Lieber can be counted on to go deepest into the game. Lieber is scheduled to start the second game but were I managing this club, I would flip-flop the two of them and let him pitch game one. It might save the bullpen a little more. Just playing the percentages.
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It’s also too late for Charlie Manuel to “dance with who brung us” in his starting lineup for these remaining nineteen games. At the very least he should shake the lineup up a bit. The blogosphere and conventional press have been alive with discussions about how to protect Ryan Howard. The consensus is he will not see many pitches to hit for the remainder of the season, thus taking the hottest bat in baseball out of his hands.
Many observers have suggested moving Howard to the three hole and letting Chase Utley bat fourth. While I am sympathetic to such a move, in the end I don’t like it as much as leaving Utley and Howard in their current spots and having Jeff Conine bat fifth. Despite showing signs of regaining his eye and stroke lately, Utley has been struggling for nearly a month, generally not getting good swings. If he does start hitting consistently, he is likely to do more damage out of his normal spot with Jimmy and Shane Victorino ahead of him. Conine is a contact hitter and still a dangerous one; moreover, he is on a mission, determined to help project his new team into the post-season. I like his veteran presence behind Howard.
The top of the order could stand a real change and towards that end Manuel should move Victorino into the leadoff spot and drop Jimmy down a notch. Victorino makes things happen and is more of a threat to drop a bunt or beat out an infield hit than Jimmy is, and while he is unlikely to draw a base on balls, he cannot be any worse than Jimmy is in that department. The Phillies need to put pressure on the opposition right out of the chute and, frankly, right now Victorino looks more capable of doing that than J-Roll does.
The next spot in need of serious remodeling is wherever, five or six, Pat Burrell might get a start. If he isn’t 100%, and indications are he is far below that number, sit him now and get a fresh face and bat in his place. I would not object to seeing Michael Bourn get a shot. He clearly doesn’t have Burrell’s power (when Pat himself has it) and he is another left-handed bat, but he would fit nicely between Conine and Chris Coste and once again give the Phils some speed between two lumbering guys.
The remaining spot that must be shuffled is the one occupied almost nightly by Abraham Nunez. When the Phils were hitting they could afford the luxury of Nunez’ glove, but he has become an automatic out in a lineup that isn’t producing overall. While neither Jose Hernandez nor Danny Sandoval is an exciting alternative, Manuel has to gamble they will hold their own in the field and deliver much more at the plate.
With only nineteen games remaining, Charlie Manuel is going to have to take some chances with his bullpen and his lineup. Despite what the players say, there isn’t much time left.