Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Pepper Allowed

Charlie Manuel has always maintained a player doesn't lose his starting job due to injury but as of this morning Shane Victorino appears to be the exception to the rule. Too bad, really, because the Phillies are better team with Victorino in the lineup.

Jayson Werth has earned a starting role on merit, but the platoon of Geoff Jenkins and So Taguchi have not. Victorino belongs in centerfield with Werth moving to right, Manuel's hunches be damned.

* * * * * * * *

Greg Maddux made a career of living on the edges of the plate but last night he was a little too far outside to get those calls and was forced to come back more to the middle. The Phillies made him pay though not so dearly he deserved to lose. Take Ryan Howard's rbi single in the first inning, for example. It was the best argument yet for not employing the shift every time the struggling first baseman comes to bat. The ball was not hit hard and would have been a routine ground out had the shortstop been remotely near his normal position. As it was, the third baseman would have been in the right spot even in the shift had been on had not a runner been on second at the time. Maddux labored in the first inning but he would have emerged unscathed had the Padres employed a normal defensive alignment.

After the game, Maddux was asked if the defeat, his latest failure to reach the 350-win plateau, had not been a big disappointment. "'It doesn't weigh," Maddux said. "It's not a milestone. It really isn't. Trust me, I've been on extra credit for five or six years now. I've stopped pitching for results. I'm just going out there to see how long I can do it.'"

Interesting take from such a fierce competitor, who threw his glove down in disgust after surrendering a hit last night to Cole Hamels.

* * * * * * * *

Ever since he his early-season troubles throwing the ball and making the pivot, Chase Utley has been a one-man highlights reel, diving, scooping and otherwise shining at second base. It seems those early miscues were an aberration. He isn't the most graceful second baseman by a long stretch, and he has a definite hitch in his throw, but Utley, who simply wills himself to excel, never takes off a moment at bat or in the field.

It's worth reminding ourselves every day we are watching a once-in-a-lifetime sort of player.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Gillick Speaks

The GM has spoken:

It seems like we've just picked it up. In spring training and the first 10 to 15 games of the season, we didn't play worth a darn, so I think we've got better intensity than we had before.

Pardon me for asking, Pat, but were you detained at a late brunch on Sunday? Surely you couldn't have watched the same team the rest of us saw sleep walking through the series finale in Pittsburgh. Intensity? I'd say it was difficult to detect a collective pulse in them on Sunday except, perhaps, for Ryan Howard, whose expletive reverberated from the three rivers out west to the Schuylkill in the east.

The GM continued:

I'd have to say we're pleased with the rotation. I wouldn't say we're satisfied. We're probably more satisfied with the bullpen.

C'mon, Pat. Do you have to hedge every statement these days? "Pleased" with the rotation? Myers is sinking fast; Eaton has sunk. Hamels has pitched very well overall. Moyer is Moyer, that is to say serviceable. Kendrick seems to have straightened himself out but still has an ERA over 5.

".... probably more satisfied with the bullpen"? "Probably"? They've been phenomenal. Eliminate Flash Gordon's Opening Day meltdown and you have the best ERA in the majors. As it is, they are best in the NL and trail only Tampa Bay overall. No one expected this kind of performance from the pen.

* * * * * * * *

More than a few commentors around the blogosphere are suggesting Brett Myers' shoulder may be ailing. It's the same one he strained last year, landing him on the DL. Myers hasn't said anything, but clearly he has lost several feet on his fastball. Mistrust of the Phillies when it comes to all things medical runs so deep it would be hard to discount the possibility that something is amiss with Myers, but it seems unlikely he would keep silent about it. Myers isn't exactly known for his discretion.

Others are wondering whether his two straight poor outings are a not-so-subtle reminder to the Phils' alleged brain trust that he wants to close, not start. That is preposterous. He isn't about to replace Brad Lidge and he knows it.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Myers & Howard: Imperfect Together

Brett Myers a number one or two starter? Only on a staff that includes Adam Eaton. He sure as hell isn't out-pitching Hamels, Moyer or Kendrick these days.

Myers produced one of his typical desultory Sunday afternoon performances yesterday, highlighted by walking his opposite number before surrendering the second of two home runs on the day to Nate McLouth. We can always count on Myers to follow a few Phillies' victories with the sort of half-baked effort we saw in Pittsburgh against a lineup that included more guys hitting below the Mendoza line than that of the injury-depleted Phils themselves. Does this guy even possess a fast ball any longer? It seems to just meander up to the plate. Rich Dubee thinks he should soft toss more to strengthen his arm. Myers demurs, of course. From where I'm sitting it looks like Myers is putting on weight, which means he simply may be having trouble getting his arm around his belly. The tell-tale sign is the more baggy uniform.

Given the lack of command of his curve and splitter and the absence of a fastball with any velocity or movement, Myers is just another run-of-the-mill starter in a league full of them. Don't let those five strikeouts in innings two and three fool you; the Pirates were helping him out as much as anything else during that stretch. The Phillies have long boasted of Myers' stuff, but right even guys hitting below .200 are routinely teeing off on him. Where is Dallas Green when we need another of his famous "he's killing us" lines?

* * * * * * * *

Meanwhile, Ryan Howard's partial reprieve from playing every day ended and he doesn't look like the 2/3 to 3/4 days off did him any good. Frankly, thinking about his problems isn't going to help. He's pulling off the ball and has virtually no sense of the strike zone any longer. He's either going to have to play through it or resign himself to being the mediocre hitter, strikeout king and occasional slugger he's been all season. A year ago I would have said he has the makeup to work through these difficulties, but now I see a guy who whines, groans and shouts expletives after every strikeout. What a mess!

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Stick With The Program, Charlie

There are plenty of other places to read about the details of the Phillies' last two victories. I'd rather concentrate today on Charlie Manuel's approach to giving players days off for various reasons.

The handling of the Jimmy Rollins injury was very bad, using him on four different occasions as a pinch-hitter when it was clear to all his sprained ankle was hampering his batting as well as fielding. Finally and belatedly, the Phillies decided to put Rollins on the Disabled List. He is now in Florida rehabilitating the ankle. Due to come off the DL on May 5th, reports are he might not be ready to play by that date.

Ryan Howard, slumping very badly and looking completely lost at the plate, was benched for the last two games to give him time to reflect and decompress. Manuel admitted Howard needed some relief from pressing, saying the big first baseman was trying to "get ten hits in every at bat". So what does Manuel do on Thursday in Milwaukee? Sends in Howard to pinch hit, leaves him in the game to play first, and watches as the struggling slugger strikes out not once but twice. I'm sure his performance went a long way to easing his mind.

Howard was on the bench for last night's series opener in Pittsburgh with Chase Utley getting the start at first base and, incidentally, starting a 3-6-3 (pitcher covering) double play with a throw Howard struggles to make consistently. But in the bottom of the eighth inning, Manuel again sent Howard up to pinch hit and, surprise surprise, he struck out feebly on the same breaking stuff away that lies at the root of his .176 batting average.

Memo to Charlie: if you are giving a player the day off, GIVE HIM THE ENTIRE DAY OFF!

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Who's Running The Show?

The retinue that thinks Charlie Manuel cannot handle a pitching staff have new fuel for their fire following last night's tough 5-4 loss to Milwaukee.

The game matched a tired bullpen and a relatively rested one. Brewers' manager Ned Yost was reluctant to use his worn out group but gave in after starter Dave Bush yielded a home run to Pat Burrell to give the Phils a 4-3 lead in the sixth inning. His decision turned out well. Manuel had options but allowed Cole Hamels to take the mound in the bottom of the eighth inning having already thrown 110 pitches and both paid for the decision as the lefty yielded a lead-off double to Ryan Zaun and a two-run shot, his second of the game, to Prince Fielder. That was it.

Afterwards, Hamels talked of finishing games he starts.

"This is something I wanted to do all last year, and I wasn't given that opportunity. Now I've been given that opportunity, and I haven't been able to succeed, so it kind of probably makes it harder for [Manuel] to make that judgment the next time."

"You want to be able to finish off your games. It's something I'm going to work toward, but it's something I haven't been able to do the last couple of games."

For his part, Manuel told the press afterwards, "I wanted him out there. I feel like he's ready for that."

Ready for what, exactly? Complete games? Nice as they are, for better or worse they really aren't the way the game is played any longer for the most part and especially with a young guy who has had his share of health problems. It was one thing to leave him in to face Zaun and quite another to face Fielder, lefty vs. lefty notwithstanding. We need only look back to the first inning when the same match-up produced a similar poor result.

Manuel's decision also smacks of allowing Hamels to dictate policy. The Phillies' alleged brain trust in general doesn't appear to know how to handle Hamels. The lean lefty can be petulant and demanding, accusing the team of failing to pay him enough or of providing adequate healthcare professionals on its staff.

While Hamels was dominating in innings two through seven, striking out ten and yielding two hits and a walk, the double to Zaun should have been the red flag Manuel apparently never saw or looked for. Moreover, Hamels has a strong tendency to give up the long ball and Fielder, struggling most of the season but not in the first inning last night, has a tendency to hit them! It should be noted Hamels finished with 121 pitches last night, a career high. He clearly threw one too many and his manager, who should but doesn't know better when it comes to pitching, couldn't or wouldn't see it coming.

Unfortunately, the 24 other guys on the team paid the price.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Two Straight In The Rockies

Let's go right to the tape....

How wonderful was the scene of Ryan Howard, all 255 pounds of him, breathing down Chase Utley's neck as the two crossed the plate in rapid succession in the ninth inning of last night's win over Colorado? To make matters even more beautiful, the big guy just beat the throw by a hand and jumped up signaling "safe" in case the ump needed help.

The two followed So Taguchi as all three of them scored on Pat Burrell's game-winning, bases-clearing double. Burrell, tied with Utley for the team lead in batting average at .357 each and neck-and-neck with him homers and rbi's, is having a glorious April. It should be remembered that Burrell has started off hot before only to cool off in mid-season, but it should also be noted he has been on quite a tear since the middle of last summer.

If he keeps this up the Phils are going to face quite the difficult decision regarding whether or not to re-sign a guy who has experienced quite a few highs and lows during his career in Philadelphia. On more than one occasion over the last year or so Burrell hinted he'd like to remain here, but can the Phillies afford him if he stays hot? It would be the ultimate irony if the Phils made an effort to keep him after openly trying to move him in the past two off-seasons all the while licking their chops at the prospect of finally shedding his big contract.

Meanwhile, Brett Myers hardly produced a quality start last night, yielding six earned runs, eleven hits (two of them homers) and two bases on balls in seven innings last night. This is Myer's pattern and we might as well get used to it. Last night he didn't look like he had much on his fastball and his curve didn't have its best bite. No matter, the game more or less followed the pattern predicted for this club in the pre-season as the offense picked up the slack.

Apart from Burrell and Utley, Jayson Werth is making the best of his starting opportunities, hitting his third home run of the year while raising his average to an even .300. Greg Dobbs continues to hit in his limited role, but no one else is doing much with the bat. If Howard ever gets untracked (far from a certainty judging from his mostly feeble AB's again last night) and the Phils get back a healthy Jimmy Rollins and Shane Victorino, this team will score enough runs to withstand the up-and-down performances of its starting pitching.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Why We Love NY Sports

These were the headline and opening lines in today's NY Times regarding the Mets:

Playing a Top Team, the Mets Fall Short

CHICAGO — The Mets had played 14 of their first 17 games against teams in the rough-and-tumble National League East, teams they will see again and again and again over the next five long months. They face the Cubs twice this week and not again until September, in the final week of the regular season, a series that may prove critical.

Still, it is never too early for the Mets to gauge themselves against a fellow contender.....

I guess that leaves the Phillies out as contenders, at least as far as Shpigel is concerned. Having taken eleven of the last fifteen games played between the two teams apparently was not sufficient to elevate their status to "top team".

* * * * * * * *

It takes a lot to outdo George Steinbrenner when it comes to meddling and even more when it comes to using the press to discredit management or players, but son Hank is living proof the apple is still on the tree let alone fallen nearby. Steinbrenner fils opined the other day that "you have to be an idiot" not to use Joba Chamberlain as a starter, which of course is not the role the young fire baller is currently filling.

GM Brian Cashman was diplomatic in his response, saying he thought everyone was in agreement on how to bring along Chamberlain, but you can be sure he is already polishing up his resume. Not mentioned in all of this public mismanagement was the role, if any of manager Joe Girardi in deciding when and where Chamberlain is used.

Former Yankee skipper Joe Torre always said Cashman was the point man for the family Steinbrenner's displeasures and it appears nothing has changed with the new regime.

All Hail Utley...Again!

Break up Chase Utley!

The Phillies wonderful second baseman hit a home run for the fifth straight game, his major league leading ninth overall, and made a stupendous defensive play to prevent the Rockies from blowing the game wide open early as the Phils came from behind to beat Colorado 9-5 at Coors Field. What a way to begin a tough road trip.

As we said last week, Utley's defense may not be his strong suit but one area with the glove where he excels is getting to the ball. His gem -- a flat out dive and toss to begin a double play -- had teammates searching for superlatives after the game. Naturally, Utley himself downplayed the glove save.

We all bitch and moan (yours truly with the best of 'em) about the Phillies' failure to put everything together in April, but it is difficult to ignore their resilience in the face of adversity, having lost their heart and soul in Jimmy Rollins along with another spark plug, especially in the field, in Shane Victorino. While Utley is deservedly getting most of the bytes for his torrid hitting, the most unsung hero of the season thus far has to be Pat Burrell, who continues to get on base and deliver the big blows when most needed. His two-run homer last night brought the Phils back from a 3-0 deficit and set the stage for the later heroics of Utley, Jayson Werth, who hit an inside-the-park home run, and struggling Carlos Ruiz, who drove in the winning runs. (Rockies' center fielder Willie Taveras, who can go get the ball, unfortunately cannot throw it once he does. A pitiful 50-foot relay throw to the cutoff man, on one bounce, aided Werth immensely.)

On a ongoing sour note, the Phils committed three more errors last night. Their atrocious fielding remains a big mystery.

Monday, April 21, 2008

All Hail Utley

There were plenty of heroes in last night's dramatic 5-4 win over the Mets but none stood out more than Chase Utley, whose two home runs produced the bulk of the Phillies' scoring. Pedro Feliz' pinch-hit homer provided the winning margin and Eric Bruntlett's great pickup and throw and Ryan Howard's scoop preserved the victory.

The home town team needed this one badly to prevent the Mets from taking their fifth straight win and more important to stop the New Yorkers from [legitimately] crowing to be in the Phils' collective heads a mere few weeks after having fended off the same claim when the Phillies won the season opener and their ninth straight victory over their hated rivals.

The largest three-game crowds ever to see a series at Citizens Bank Park and a national television audience for the second straight day were treated to a hitting clinic by the best second baseman in baseball. Utley's sweet, short stroke nailed two long home runs into the teeth of a fairly strong wind. Commentator Joe Morgan, a fairly good second baseman in his own right (but still an absolutely annoying color man), said Utley "had a chance to be the best hitting second baseman in the history of baseall." No further comment is needed.

The Phils remain a game under .500 with slightly more than a week left in April. They will attempt to climb over the hump during a tough three city road trip beginning in the toughest place of all, Denver. Given how long they've played without their heart and soul, Jimmy Rollins, it's amazing they are only a game under.

Speaking of Rollins, he will not make the trip with the team and thus avoid being bombarded with boos by the Rockies' faithful who believe their man, Matt Holliday, should have been the MVP last year. Jimmy was finally placed on the disabled list long past the point when he should have been. The club's feeble excuse, that they listened to him insist he was close to being ready, and manager Charlie Manuel's even more lame excuse that he used J-Roll 4 different times as a pinch hitter instead of resting him because he wanted to win, speak volumes about how inept and incompetent the organization is when it comes to handling injuries. Jimmy doesn't seem too pleased about the situation either, abruptly cutting off any further questions from the press. For the talkative, jovial Rollins this marks the second time he has turned off the press in the last few weeks, uncharacteristic to say the least. It's hard to say with whom he is angry but suffice it to say this first trip to the DL in his eight year career is not going down well for the reigning NL MVP. As usual, the sporting public has little inkling as to what is going on behind the scenes.

On another note, Ryan Howard has had a pretty lousy year at the plate and in the field, but last night he made three terrific plays, all of which could be said to have been game-saving. He made a great stop and throw to Adam Eaton covering in the fourth inning, a key catch of a wind-blown foul pop off of David Wright, and the game ending scoop of Bruntlett's throw in the ninth. For one night, at least, hands of stone were as soft as the smoothest kid gloves.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Alive And Well

The Reverse Curse is Alive and Well.

Mere hours after lamenting the Phillies' silent bats, they unleashed a barrage of home runs en route to a 10-2 victory over the Astros.

I had thought about writing this AM that Ryan Howard looked more comfortable at the plate last night than I'd seen him appear all season. He hit the ball hard a few times including a solid poke up the middle. He didn't try and pull everything thrown within his zip code and though he struck out looking in his last AB, he went down on a tough pitch.

Today he continued to look like he might be emerging from his season-long funk, stroking his fourth homer of the year and second in three games.

Meanwhile, not to be outdone on the RC front, Brett Myers, this writer's favorite whipping boy, threw a second consecutive strong game, upping his record to 2-1 and lowering his ERA below 4 runs per game.

All Pitch No Hit

It's official....for now: the Phillies can pitch but they cannot hit.

For the third time this season the Phils wasted a fine effort by a starting pitcher when they lost to the Astros last night, 2-1. Kyle Kendricks, about whom everyone (yours very truly included) was worried, provided a genuine quality start last night, going seven innings while allowing two earned runs on four hits, but his mates continued their flailing ways at the plate, including five strikeouts in their last six at-bats.

The winning margin came on a pretty good inside pitch to light-hitting ex-Phillie Michael Bourn, who plunked it down the right field line off the good side (if you call Texas home) of the foul pole. Everyone had to be heartened by Kendricks' outing.

No one, on the other hand, can be happy watching the Phils make successive Houston hurlers look like Cy Young. Last night they faced Roy Oswalt, an outstanding pitcher who nonetheless entered the game with an 0-3 record and an ERA of 9.00. Nothing quite remedies an ailing hurler's stats better than an appearance against these 2008 Phillies. There were several hard hit outs early, but in the end the Phillies could manage only six hits against Oswalt and two relievers as they fell below .500 again.

* * * * * * * *

The Phillies alleged brain trust including the medical staff are a bunch of idiots in their handling of Jimmy Rollins. Unable to move laterally in the field without pain according to no more reliable a source than J-Roll himself, the ailing shortstop also acknowledged he feels some pain in his injured ankle when he swings in the batter box. Nevertheless, Charlie Manuel used him as a pinch hitter for the third consecutive game. Rollins delivered a crisp single and as he rounded the bag at first clearly favored his ailing ankle, limping back to the bag. The Phillies seem determined to prolong his injury as long as possible. Stupid! There is no other word to describe their approach.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

With A Little Bit Of Luck

At least one missing element in the Phillies' 2008 season Version 4.1 has been found and installed: last minute heroics.

The Phils improbable ninth inning comeback against the Astros had a little bit of everything: a pinch-hit home run by recent call-up Chris Snelling; another round-tripper from a rejuvenated Pat Burrell; a strikeout/passed ball that gave second life to Geoff Jenkins; Jenkins running through a stop sign at third base to score the winning run all the way from first base on a double by Pedro Feliz; and last but not least, a call that went the Phillies' way on a play at the plate.

Good teams need luck to go with their pluck and the Phils had a little bit of each last night as they awakened from their eight inning slumber to rally from three runs down, beat the Astros and even their season's record at seven wins and seven losses.

Lost but not forgotten in the win was another solid outing by Adam Eaton, his third straight "quality start" as defined in the new millennium. Eaton got no decision for the third straight time as well, but neither he nor his teammates will be complaining. With Cole Hamels pitching lights out, Brett Myers see-sawing between competent and disappointing, the steady performances of Eaton have been critical. With two weeks left in April there is still plenty of time for the Phils to banish the cruelest month's curse. Now, if only they could stay healthy, their bats would wake up and their gloves would turn from stone to leather, this team might take advantage of the overall mediocrity in their division and start to make a move early rather than late.

Speaking of health, the loss of Jimmy Rollins and Shane Victorino has taken a serious toll at the top of the order which has been largely unproductive since the two spark plugs went down. Rollins has pinch hit in two straight games but still complains of pain when he moves laterally in the field. When he first injured his ankle the reports suggested it was nothing serious. Five games later he still isn't able to start. On a team whose medical staff has little or no credibility with the sporting public, Rollins' absence only confirms our worst fears, namely, he might be out longer than originally suggested. We have gotten spoiled by Jimmy's own Iron Man history; even one or two absences is hard to accept let alone adjust to. Meanwhile, Victorino was put on the 15-day DL Sunday, raising yet again the question of whether he can ever remain healthy enough to play a full season. Part of his problem is that he plays all out. Like his predecessor in center field, Victorino only knows one speed. Some times, throttling back a little is a better approach, personally and for the team.

Monday, April 14, 2008

No Defense

The Phillies defense has been atrocious thus far this season and no one has been having a tougher time in the field than Chase Utley. Yesterday's throwing error on a double play contributed mightily to the Phillies' loss. That said, it is unseemly to turn on Utley for his defensive failings all of a sudden because, frankly, ever since his arrival in the big league's he's always had a reputation as an average fielder at best whose weak arm and difficulties turning the double play are his greatest (and only) liabilities.

Utley always gives 100 per cent. At bat and on the base paths that is more than enough; in the field, it isn't. He has worked hard on his defense and can be counted on to get to nearly everything hit his way. His problems after that are well known, but to think he isn't hustling or is suddenly less than "perfect" as some who are leaping from the bandwagon have suggested is not worthy of further comment.

Utley's problems mirror an overall feeling that this club is playing tight and is still trying to find its rhythm. The losses of Jimmy Rollins and Shane Victorino have forced Charlie Manuel to juggle his lineup and the platooning of outfielders Jayson Werth and Geoff Jenkins and de facto platooning of catchers Carlos Ruiz and Chris Coste have contributed to the lack of stability. The Phillies were expected to be an offensive powerhouse but to date they have collectively failed to deliver with few exceptions, Pat Burrell being the most notable one.

If there has been a pleasant surprise it has been the bullpen, which has acquitted itself admirably in the main. The starting pitching has been erratic, as expected, but generally also somewhat better than anticipated. The Phils would have a winning record were they able to catch and throw the ball. No one expected them to be so bad at those skills.

Friday, April 11, 2008


Adam Eaton continues to surprise to the upside and Tom Gordon continues to disappoint to the downside. Eaton pitched another quality start last night in an important game no less and all he got to show for it was a no decision. Having watched the Mets end the Phillies nine-game hex the night before, Eaton went out and did his best to begin a new one. Unfortunately, the offense behind him wasn't on the same page. Still, they rallied late and had their chances to break things open, but their bats fell silent and the Mets won in 12 innings. Gordon took the loss.

Having used Brad Lidge in the ninth inning, the Phillies had little choice but to go to Gordon, and for the second time this season the result was a crushing loss -- the other was to Washington -- after his mates had rallied late. But make no mistake, this one was again on the offense, which sent six guys to the plate last night who are hitting below the Mendoza line. Twice they wasted excellent scoring opportunities in regulation time and as is almost always the case, their ineptitude came back to haunt them.

While their pitching has been erratic at times, the big problems have been defense and a feeble attack. Pedro Feliz homered for the first time as a Phillie and Ryan Howard crushed his second home run of the season, but they are two of the regulars batting under .200. The Phillies aren't clicking on all cylinders ten games into the season, having now lost series to the Nationals and the Mets. The run into a hot Cubs team tonight at Citizens Bank Park with Brett Myers vowing to go the distance and get his team back on track. We've heard bravura from him before; right now, I'd settle for a win.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Here We Go Again

We knew the pitching would be suspect, but all along we figured they'd at least catch the ball and hit a ton. Not so.

Through nine games the Phillies' fielding has been atrocious. Last night they committed four more errors, two by backup shortstop Eric Bruntlett (making his debut), one by Chase Utley, his third of the season, and another by Carlos Ruiz, his second this year. The sloppy play killed them and the Mets scored eight runs on a mere five hits and nine walks, six of them courtesy of starter Kyle Kendrick. With each outing Kendrick more and more resembles the inexperienced hurler he is. His line for the night was four hits and those six free passes in 2.1 innings. Little matter that only one of the seven runs he yielded was earned; he hardly did himself much credit.

Meanwhile, the alleged offensive juggernaut managed two runs. Three of the starting eight position players -- Ryan Howard, Carlos Ruiz and Shane Victorino -- are hitting below the Mendoza line. A fourth, Pedro Feliz, sits right on the line.

The Phillies look like a tentative team in every facet of their game. One third of the way through the cruelest month, their record reflects that quality.

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Someone's Got Someone's Number

Just when nearly everyone, yours truly included, was about to write off Jamie Moyer, the wily, crafty, savvy (pick all three) 45-year old veteran pitched a fine game against the Mets in the New Yorkers' final season opener at Shea Stadium. The win was the Phils' ninth straight against their biggest rival.

Moyer did get off to a somewhat shaky start giving up some long, loud outs, especially a deep fly ball by David Wright and a booming home run in the second by Carlos Delgado, his eight career homer off of Moyer. The veteran southpaw then settled down and held the Mets to one more run before the bullpen nailed down the victory.

For their part, the Mets were cruising behind Oliver Perez but when he exited the wheels came off. A throwing error by Delgado was the critical error as the Phils clawed their way back. Former Phillie Billy Wagner, always good for a dispassionate analysis of all things Philadelphia, said his ex mates didn't have the Mets number; rather, his current team just keeps "shooting ourselves in the foot." Whatever you say, Mr. Wagner.

Chase Utley was named player of the game for getting plunked three times by pitches, a major league record for one game, and being hit by Delgado's errant throw on the front end of an aborted double play. He also drove in an insurance run with a double in the eight inning. But the real hero of the game from where I sat 100 miles away in front of a television (when I probably should have been earning a living) was Shane Victorino who made several superb catches in deep center field, one after colliding with a much bigger Jayson Werth. Victorino made at least 1-2 grabs that the former occupant of his station, Aaron Rowand, would not have even gotten to. Rowand, who always played too shallow and took circuitous routes to many balls, may be missed for his clubhouse presence, but Victorino is his superior in the field. It remains to be seen if Victorino can get untracked at the plate, however.

The victory evened the Phils' season record at 4-4. A win today would put them over .500 for the first time this year.

Monday, April 07, 2008

Bitching And Moaning

Brett Myers is ticked off. So, what's new?

It seems Myers felt he had another inning left in him yesterday when his manager disagreed and lifted him after five innings of labor during which he surrendered eight hits, four walks, two home runs and four earned runs. Today I was very frustrated because I definitely felt like I had another inning in me and wasn't happy with the way the situation ended up. I mean, I gave up two seeing-eye singles in that [fifth] inning and had to work out of a bases-loaded jam, but felt like I deserved myself another inning there and they didn't give it to me. They felt like I was finished and they needed to go to the bullpen.

You can be sure Charlie Manuel hesitated before going to his bullpen, but the notion that he deserved another inning is vintage Myers: blame someone else.

Watching him throw it was clear he had virtually no command of his breaking ball, little if anything on his fastball and absolutely nothing upstairs. Worst of all, Myers simply doesn't know how to pitch. We aren't asking for a Phi Beta Kappa performance every time out, but it would help if once in a while Myers gave the impression he knew what he was doing. He can fall in love with his curve when its clear the only thing that pitch is doing on some days is hanging around waiting for some batter(s) to jerk it out of the park. The idea that the staff's number two starter has to complain he'd only given up two "seeing eye" hits in his final inning of work hardly excuses the four innings that preceded them.

If the Phils continue their perennial April swoon, Myers can point to his first two starts and say he gave them a shove in that direction.

While we are on the subject of complainers, it's time to note Ryan Howard is becoming a charter member of the whiners club. I'd like a nickel for every time he moans about a call that didn't go his way or gives that prolonged pained look of disbelief. Umpires are probably getting tired of his act, too, and he can expect little leeway from them as he visibly shows his displeasure. Howard has gone from a guy whose demeanor was sunny and whose approach was one of adjustment to a guy who seems impatient and disgruntled and whose approach is rigid.

No one is asking him to defy the shift and drop a bunt down the third base line, but by the same token he'd better start going the other way once in a while instead of pulling everything thrown. He already has struck out seven times in 20 official AB's.

Sunday, April 06, 2008

The Good The Bad & The Inexplicable

Baseball, the pundits are forever reminding us, is a game of inches and yesterday's Phillies-Reds installment was no different.

Adam Eaton, everybody's favorite whipping boy (pitching division), threw his best game in a very long while and nearly won it save for a then game-tying home run he allowed in the eighth inning on a slightly high and outside fastball to Corey Patterson. After a disastrous Spring during which Eaton fooled no one but himself, Eaton was in danger of being dropped from the last spot in the starting rotation. A few inches further up or away yesterday and he's the hero. For the record he threw 95 pitches yesterday and 2/3 of them were strikes.

If there was a goat yesterday it had to be manager Charlie Manuel, whose use of certain players in certain situations can only be construed as an attempt to give everyone a chance to play. Why Greg Dobbs would get the start at third base in the fifth game of the season after Pedro Feliz looked like he was finally getting untracked at the plate with three hits in his last eight AB's is completely beyond me. It isn't as if Dobbs got the start for his glove! While Manuel deserves credit for having worked every player into action on a regular basis last season, some of those moves were dictated by need not magnanimity. What need was Dobbs fulfilling yesterday?

The other questionable move was to use Tom Gordon in the eighth inning and Chad Durbin in the ninth. Durbin, who gave up a hit and two walks, took the heartbreaking loss. If Charlie wants to give Durbin some work and save the rest of his pen, the closer job is not a good place to start, especially on the road. If he had enough confidence in Gordon to use him in the eighth, he should have used him in the ninth instead.

Friday, April 04, 2008

That's More Like It

The Phillies are playing to form.

A 45-year old pitcher didn't get it done. The offense, their anemic one-hit wonder of the night before an aberration, was relentless if not always clutch. And their best overall player (intangibles included) sparked the winning rally by going from first to third on a bunt that may have gone ten feet from home plate.

Jamie Moyer certainly looked his age in his first start of the season. Though he eventually settled down after a disastrous first inning, that opening frame nearly sent the Phils to a third straight loss at home versus the Washington Nationals. After his departure, the bullpen with the notable exception of Ryan Madson, pitched well. Flash Gordon had another ninth inning adventure, loading the bases on a hit and two walks, but he managed to get out of the inning unscathed. No one would admit his temporary job as closer was on the line, but had he blown another opportunity yesterday the local citizenry would have been out for blood.

Jimmy Rollins had an adventurous opening series, stroking a game-tying home run on Opening Day, making uncharacteristic errors in two of the three games, and, of course, that mad dash around the infield yesterday afternoon that led to the winning run. But my Player of the Game award goes to Shane Victorino, the only Phillies player who can reliably lay down a bunt. Let it be known Victorino has been struggling at the plate thus far, but when he had to, he stood in there, showed bunt early and often against a guy who was both a little wild and was bringing it at about 94-97 MPH, and got the job done. Make no mistake about it: that took guts.

Newcomers Geoff Jenkins and Pedro Feliz got untracked at the bat, both driving in key runs. Chris Coste got his first start of the season and homered on the first pitch he saw. Ryan Howard showed bunt with the team trailing by five runs, something most people agree he is not paid to do and all are unanimous he is incapable of pulling off. And last but not least, Adam Eaton got into the game and didn't give up a hit, walk or run. In fact, he didn't even wear a glove. Eaton pinch-ran for Pat Burrell.

With their first win under their collective belts, the Phils begin the first road trip of the season in Cincinnati this evening convinced they can come back in any game.

Thursday, April 03, 2008

Cole: Hot And Cold

On a day when it was announced the Mets had lost Pedro Martinez for 4-6 weeks, the Phils sent Cole Hamels to the mound to even the series with Washington and the season's record. After a shaky first inning the Phils' real ace (not that guy who started Opening Day) settled down and pitched a masterful game. His lone mistake was a home run surrendered to Ryan Zimmerman, who truth be told, hit what would have been a three-run shot in the first inning only to have a strong, gusty wind knock it back to the warning track.

Unfortunately, Hamels' opposite number, Tim Redding, pitched like Cy Young and held the Phils to a lone hit, by Pedro Feliz. The final score was 1-0. So much for taking advantage of the circumstances.

Three things have become abundantly apparent about Hamels:

1. He is the only reliable starter on this staff.
2. He is going to give up a lot of home runs, especially in this ballpark.
3. He does little to hide his disgust when things don't go his way.

Hamels facial expressions betray his easy frustrations with teammates' lapses. Though not as egregious as Curt Schillings' towel-over-the-head routine, Hamels' behavior won't exactly endear him to the guys playing behind him if he keeps it up.

Following his petulant response to the Phillies' contract tender this Spring and his warning he wouldn't forget their snub, Hamels appears to be laying the groundwork for his departure several years hence when he is eligible for free agency.

In the meantime, it would help his demeanor if his mates got a few runs for him. They can ill-afford to waste an eight inning one-run effort from anyone, least of all him.

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

Go Figure

OK, anybody want to guess what the catch is with Rudy Saenez? Does a team just release a 39-year old guy who is coming off a season in which according to the Inquirer "he went 6-3 with one save and a 3.79 ERA in a career-high 73 appearances, had 73 strikeouts in 76 innings pitched and posted a 2.89 ERA in his final 26 games of the season"?

C'mon, guys, this is Philadelphia. We're used to guys like Freddy Garcia coming in as the latest anointed savior only to go down with arm problems ten million dollars and a few outings later. Saenez has some medical skeleton in his closet, you can be sure of it. If his arm falls off after a few appearances, don't say I didn't tell you so.

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Meanwhile, to make room for Saenez and his mystery ailment(s) Wee Helms ended his brief and uninspiring tenure here by being given his outright release. Some team will wait ten days until he clears waivers before signing him. Helms picked his first and only year in a Phillies uniform to revert to form, i.e., a lousy glove and arm and mediocre bat.

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Jimmy Rollins picked up right where he left off last season with his two-run, game-tying (at the time) home run on Opening Day. Sure, the usually sure-handed Rollins had his fielding lapses, but that won't last. What will last is his having turned into a real clutch performer.

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Johann Santana had a great opening day as a National Leaguer, but it is just a wee bit premature for guys like Jayson Stark to announce his victory erased the colossal collapse of his teammates last autumn. Lest he forget, that collapse was of historic proportions and, frankly, nothing erases that kind of mark permanently. The best Mets fans and players can expect is to get over it and move on, but one outing hardly qualifies.

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Let's see, the Red Sox and A's opened the MLB season in Japan splitting a two-game set and then the Red Sox returned stateside and played an exhibition game before resuming their regularly scheduled season. Meanwhile, the Phillies remain stuck in their inexplicably odd season-opening ritual of playing one game and taking the next day off before resuming their initial series. What is the point of taking a day off when you are fresh as opposed to, say, August or September when everyone could use the break?

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

End To A Perfect Season

It was only one game, the players and manager reminded us after the deed was done, but the outcome confirmed our worst pre-season suspicions: they can hit but they cannot pitch.

Brett Myers, handed the opening day assignment, one suspects, to bolster his ego, failed to deliver. Myers is forever dashing our hopes if not his. Ryan Madson, whose labored delivery masks absolutely nothing on the ball, served up a two-run homer in so-called middle relief, and Tom Gordon, who was washed up before being installed as the emergency closer, squandered a dramatic Phillies' comeback in the bottom of the eighth by giving up five runs in a third of an inning in the top of the ninth of what couldn't be labeled relief unless you were tuned in to Comcast Sportsnet's MidAtlantic division.

The offense produced six runs, normally more than enough to win a ball game, but the pitching staff except for J.C. Romero, Chad Durbin (and Mayor Michael Nutter), was in a charitable mood. The good news is, there are 161 games remaining. The bad news is....