Thursday, April 29, 2010

Rolling The Dice

The good news [sic] is Brad Lidge and Joe Blanton are returning. The bad news is Brad Lidge is returning. Now granted, the Phils could use a genuine closer and Lidge has been one every other year or so. Still, he didn't have what one might call stellar rehab stats. Perhaps the free-swinging youth of AA& AAA ball are always ready to go for broke whenever one of the big boys is in town and, yes, the radar guns in the minor leagues may not have quite the accuracy of their big league brethren, but you'll pardon me if I am not just a wee bit skeptical Lidge will be the ninth inning answer.

On the other hand (there's always another hand), what have the Phils got to lose? They can't keep sending Ryan Madson out there. Let's face it, the tall lanky one is a setup guy not a closer. So, they'll roll the dice that Lidge has something left in the tank. If they come up snake eyes, their prospects will have dimmed.

Blame This One On The Skipper

One debate that surfaces from time to time in baseball is how many wins and losses can be attributed in a given season to the manager as opposed to his players. I don't pretend to know the number but I do know this:

The Giants Bruce Bochy is directly responsible for at least one loss this season. When he pulled Tim Lincecum from yesterday's game in the ninth he removed a man on a mission who was still very much in command and within two outs of a complete game. The wheels came off after that and though Lincecum appeared calm albeit resigned when interviewed afterward, you have to believe he was one unhappy dude.

What makes a manger jump out of the dugout just because a pitcher who has been nothing short of dominant all afternoon walks one guy on four pitches? Maybe its sabremetrics. Maybe it's a hunch. Maybe its pitch count, which Bochy claimed later referring more to the cumulative effect of Lincecum's last two starts than simply yesterday's outing.

Whatever the explanation, every armchair manager in area code 415 thinks Bochy blew it. Folks residing in area code 215 think the same thing but aren't about to complain.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Eleventh Inning Is The Charm

Instead of a flying morgue the Phillies' charter flight across the continent should be a whole lot cheerier following their improbable comeback win against the Giants this afternoon.

Trailing Tim Lincecum in the bottom of the 9th, 4-1, the Phils managed to score three runs to send the game into extra innings where they scored one run in the tenth to go ahead, watched the Giants tie the game again in the bottom of the frame, scored two more in the eleventh only to watch the Giants score one more and finally held on for the win.

Instead of licking their wounds following a three-game sweep, the Phils took the finale to end their nine game road trip 4-5. Going into the ninth inning no one, least of all this skeptic, thought the Phils had the proverbial snow ball's chance against of the dominant pitchers in the game.

Cole Hamels started and looked sharp early on. Even when he was walking people he wasn't missing by much, but in the end it was a strange outing for him as he worked six innings, gave up four earned runs, nine hits, walked four and struck out ten. Hamels still is unable to put together a complete performance and I am not talking about nine innings.

Ryan Howard finally broke out of the longest home run drought of his career, hitting his first home run in weeks to give the Phils an early one run lead in the fifth. Other than that mistake Lincecum looked like his usual unhittable self, yielding only one more hit through 8 1/3 innings, walking one and striking out eleven. No way was he going to lose. Actually, he didn't take the loss.

Ryan Madson had the dubious distinction of getting the win but blowing the save. Now isn't that fitting for the way this team has been playing lately?!

Come Home, Boys, We Still Love 'Ya...For Now!

It's time to come home for these Phillies. A road trip that began with promise has deteriorated rapidly since the team flew across the country to do battle with the Diamondbacks and Giants.

No one is hitting, not even the $125 million man. No one is pitching, not even their savior Roy Halladay, though he started off very well. The bullpen is up and down. The bench is anemic. The only thing the Phils are doing right is fielding, but even being number one on ESPN's top ten plays of yesterday for that remarkable double play pulled off by Castro to Utley to Howard doesn't count in the standings.

As long as we are on that subject, the Phils fell into second place behind...the NY Mets. Don't look now, but the hottest teams in the NL East right now are NY and Washington. That should make Philadelphians who normally harbor deep anxiety about their place between the Big Apple and the Nation's Capital feel real good about themselves.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Big Numbers & Coming Up Small

Before yesterday Ryan Howard didn't have to worry where his next meal was coming from. Today his only worry is whether or not he should just buy the restaurant.

The Phils signed the big man to a $125 million five year extension with an option for a sixth year. The deal makes Howard the second highest paid player in MLB. It also makes you wonder about Ruben Amaro, David Montgomery & Co..

With Jayson Werth poised to become a free agent and Jimmy Rollins' contract set to expire after next season, did the Phils overspend to basically sign Howard for life? He'd just signed a three year deal a year earlier. Another three year deal would have made more sense, but, then, maybe Howard made it clear he wasn't going to sign for anything less than five years. He'll be 37 at the end of his contract, an age when many ballplayers are in decline. Look no further than left field for some evidence (and while you are glancing in that direction think about why it is important to re-sign Werth). Moreover, big men seem to decline more rapidly as they enter their mid to late 30's.

No doubt Howard puts fannies in the seats. And no doubt he looks a little trimmer this season and until the last week or so was making more contact. This deal is definitely about offense, but the most improved part of his game thus far in 2010 may be his defense. He is diving, scooping and throwing a lot better than ever before. Good thing. He'll be around a long time.

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You thought maybe Roy Halladay would go undefeated? It's too bad he had to pick last night's game to show he is only mortal because the Phils needed their stopper to halt their little funk. The record shows Halladay hasn't had success against the Giants in a few interleague outings prior to last night. In the end, however, it was the Phils' chronic failure to hit in the clutch that sealed their fate last night. They aren't getting any production with runners in scoring position. Cy Young and Sandy Koufax couldn't overcome a lack of clutch hitting every time out either.

Monday, April 26, 2010

School Definitely Still Out On Kendrick

Turns out it was wise to wait for at least another start from Kyle Kendrick before drawing any conclusions about his readiness to fill one of the five spots in the starting rotation. Yesterday, he started off reasonably well, flirting with danger a few times but getting out of trouble. Then the wheels came off in the fifth inning and the Phillies' 3-0 lead disappeared beneath a barrage of home runs as the Diamondbacks took two of three in the weekend series, winning the finale 8-6.

While Kendrick was struggling, the Phils' bats more or less came alive but they failed to produce in a number of key scoring situations that would have broken the game wide open. The lineup yesterday featured a number of bit players in starting roles as Charlie Manuel decided to give struggling Shane Victorino a break and hurting Placido Polanco and Juan Castro the day off. Despite the presence of so many second and third stringers, the Phils could have won this game with a little bit of timely hitting and maybe a call or two in the bottom of the eighth inning.

So, after taking two of three from division rival Atlanta, which figured to be tough, they dropped two of three to Arizona, which figured to be easier. San Francisco and Tim Linsecum loom but the Phils apparently will not face either Matt Kane or Barry Zito.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Hitting And Pitching

An article in today's Inquirer indicates the Phils' believe Cole Hamels "arm angle" was off during that fateful inning two nights ago when he surrendered three home runs. Prior to that obtuse angle Hamels had retired nine of the first ten batters he faced. OK, Rich Dubee, if you say so, but let me ask you this: Do pitchers like Cliff Lee go through innings during which their arm angle is suddenly and inexplicably off after the angle has been A OK for three innings not to mention after they've been in the major leagues for three years or more? Inquiring minds want to know.

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Jayson Werth single handedly beat Arizona last night, homering twice and providing a few fine plays in the outfield including making a fine running catch in foul territory and firing a strike to double up the runner who tried to advance to second.

Raul Ibanez also homered as the Phils won 3-2. That's it folks. Other than those guys, no one is hitting a lick and, frankly, Ibanez hadn't been all that productive either prior to last night. Shane Victorino, Chase Utley and Ryan Howard have been struggling mightily. Victorino, in particular, seems totally uncomfortable batting lead off. Placido Polanco missed Friday's game with a sore elbow and didn't look comfortable last night.

The vaunted offense hasn't been so vaunted since a week ago Friday when they beat Florida.

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Nelson Figueroa must have used a few of his nine lives last night as he stepped in as an emergency starter and pitched pretty decently with a little help from his friend in right field. Figueroa has bounced around including two stops with the Phils. Pitching in front of a host of his family and friends, he pitched five innings in homer friendly Chase Field, yielding two earned runs. The bullpen, which has been very good most of this season to date, added four scoreless innings.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

He's Baaacccck

Yes, that Cole Hamels is back, the one who gives up home runs in bunches, who cannot hold a lead, who has never met a shutdown inning he likes, who takes a mini winning streak and stops it cold.

Hamels is a .500 pitcher. I've said it before and nothing since including his good outing last Sunday changes that perception. After all, that's what .500 means: one good outing followed by a stinker. The Phils took on a team with a losing record and Hamels did his best to correct that situation.

Nelson Figueroa gets the ball today. Under the circumstances, it's difficult to be sanguine about the pitching, but with 40% of the guys the Phils were counting on at the beginning of the season now on the DL, they are going to have to tough it out. It would be nice to think that a Kyle Drabek was waiting in the wings but he's long gone. Wouldn't it be great to know Cliff Lee would soon settle things down?

Oh, well. We still have Roy.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Reverse Curse Alive & Well

I've had it with bashing Jamie Moyer. I mean every damn time I complain about him being washed up and incapable of withdrawing quietly the old geezer goes out and pitches a helluva game proving among other things (and among other people) that I don't know what I am talking about.

While I'm at it, how 'bout my call on Kyle Kendrick for pure insight? Do I have my finger on this team's pulse or what?!

Moyer's strong outing coupled with clutch hitting by the usual suspects gave the Phils two of three games in Atlanta. As we all know by now, they should have swept the Bravos. The Phils certainly served notice on Atlanta that they are still kings of the hill. As for the Florida games, well, those guys have always been the Phils' biggest nemeses and they'll be there at the end of this season as well.

The Phils were playing without the regular left side of their infield as Placido Polanco took the day off to recover from being plunked on the elbow. Earlier in the day the Phils placed another starter, J.A. Happ, on the fifteen day disabled list making that two of the five guys who began the season in the rotation sitting on the sidelines. Pitching was the worry for this team going into 2010, but for now at least they seem to be staving off disaster. It remains to be seen as the weather heats up and the off days are fewer how well their patchwork rotation can perform. For fear of sticking my foot in my mouth again, Moyer tends to go through some rough patches as the season wears on and Kendrick's terrific outing Tuesday night makes one in three starts this season, hardly a pattern...yet.

It doesn't appear anyone is going to run away with the NL East. Frankly, the Braves went rather meekly given the strength of their rotation and the quality of their lineup. The usual Phillies killers, Martin Prado, Brian McCann and Mike Diaz were missing in action much of the series while Chipper stroked the ball hard and in some bad luck a few times when it might have counted. Last night two ropes right at Greg Dobbs to end two different innings could have completely changed the complexion of the game, but, then, the Phils' defense has been superb. Last night Shane Victorino dropped a long fly ball that was tough but catchable, especially for him, and Chase Utley made two errors in one inning. Still, this team can pick 'em and over the long haul combined with their offense and at least Roy Halladay should make them the favorites in the division.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Gems On The Mound & In The Field

The doctor remains in thanks in no small measure to his staff who provided sufficient offense and magnificent defense as the Phils evened the series with Atlanta at a game apiece.

Roy Halladay has been everything advertised and then some in pitching a shutout while raising his MLB-best record to 4-0. Shane Victorino made a great catch at the wall to prevent the tying run in the second, Chase Utley dived to start a crucial double play when Atlanta threatened to roar back in the seventh and Ryan Howard made two great plays, the last one diving to his right and flipping the ball to Halladay covering. Afterwards, the normally taciturn Halladay couldn't say enough about the defense behind him.''

Watching Howard continue to mature has been one of the great pleasures of the early season. He is making much more contact, occasionally going the other way, and fielding his position better than ever before. In the past his defense has been shaky as he appeared to lose his concentration but this season he's all business and it shows. One cannot help feeling his signing that huge contract in the off-season helped settle him down, allowing him to feel confident he'd be a Phillie for three more years and this was where he was going to make himself a better, more complete player.

As for Utley, one cannot get enough of him. It is pure pleasure to watch him step out of the box, look around at the defensive alignments and try and hit the ball where they ain't. He's never going to be a Gold Glove infielder but if possible he's even better than that, a player who makes the most of what he has, which is tremendous range, better than average hands and a average arm. He always managed to put himself in position to make all the plays, especially the tough ones. It's impossible to take him for granted because every time he steps into the batter's box or makes a play I remind myself I am watching one of those once-in-a-lifetime players and I don't want to miss a thing!

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During the game I emailed Jason Weitzel and mentioned that as I watched the camera scan the sparse crowd at Turner Field I couldn't help conclude Atlanta is a lousy baseball town. Here we had one of the best teams in baseball in town, starting one of the best pitchers in the game, the home team had won in dramatic fashion the night before, the weather was beautiful and if the crowd was 1/3 the capacity of the stadium I'd be surprised. Just checked the stats: 21,171. Pitiful. Jason agreed and noted Atlanta always seems to get a pass on that front.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Brutal Loss

No one saw this coming. No, we're not talking about Ryan Madson's latest meltdown. We've come to expect that from him. We're talking about Kyle Kendrick's roster spot saving effort. Eight shutout innings during which he lowered his ERA by nearly ten runs. Lots of ground ball outs including two double play balls. Gritty pitching. Mentally tough. He showed lots of emotion, too, pumping his fist more than once upon leaving the mound.

And then the bullpen wasted everything. Turned a win no one expected into a loss. Cost Kendrick a W he richly deserved. Wasted another fine offensive night from Placido Polanco and Chase Utley.

Frankly, this loss is on Ruben Amaro, too. When the season's story is written, his acquisition of Roy Halladay will not likely compensate for the failure to acquire a dependable closer and to hold on to Cliff Lee.

The Phils recovered sufficiently from their weekend batting funk to stake the bullpen to a 3-0 lead. Then Madson, who has never shown he can close, and Jose Contreras served up three home runs between them and the 3-0 lead was a 4-3 loss.


Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Thin And Getting Thinner

I was out of town for the finale versus the Nationals last Thursday and all three games against old nemesis Florida and thus missed (or was spared depending on your point of view) watching the Phils' three losses in their last four games. Thanks to ESPN and the NY Times, however, the gory details were readily available.

It doesn't take a genius to figure out the Phils are not going to win often when their offense goes cold, not unless Roy Halladay is scheduled to pitch. As the Phils move on to Atlanta to begin a three game series against the Braves, however, the brutal reality is that no amount of offense may be sufficient when you are sending Kyle Kendrick and Jamie Moyer to the mound. The only good news is that their starts sandwich Halladay's, who is slotted to pitch the second game. Kendrick should be one start from a demotion to AAA, but given the Phils' desperation to find five healthy starters he figures to stick around despite his awful outings to date. Moyer is making Ruben Amaro's decision to sign him for more than one year look as bad as the Ibanez signing.

Cole Hamels temporarily stifled the growing concern about his toughness when he settled down after surrendering a home run to Dan Uggla to pitch eight impressive innings on Sunday. Some how Hamels seems incapable of getting through a game without giving up a dinger, but he bore down afterwards in what turned out to be his best outing in a long time dating back to last year.

Word that J.A. Happ has a forearm strain and will miss a start only deepened the gloom concerning the Phillies starting pitching, however, and Ryan Madson's umpteenth audition for the role of closer also brought little comfort as he continued to pitch erratically. Sunday he allowed an inherited base runner to score Florida's second run rather than shut the door in what was a one run game at the time. Florida won 2-0.

What began as uncharacteristically fast start albeit against weak opposition could easily be near the .500 mark by week's end unless Kendrick and Moyer surprise to the upside. Don't hold your breath.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

On Second Thought....

So far, not so good. Jimmy Rollins was placed on the DL today and is likely to be out for a considerable amount of time. Some reports have him out three to six weeks at least.

If you believe Jimmy is the spark plug of this team, and this observer does, the news could not be worse. On second thought, it could be given the Phillies don't have an adequate replacement either. Juan Castro was brought in to spell Jimmy or Chase Utley once in a great while but the Phils never saw him as an every day player.

It's too bad Jimmy went down at all but especially given his hot start. Heck, J Roll was even taking walks this season!

It's likely Shane Victorino will replace Jimmy at the top of the order with Castro sliding into either the seventh or eighth spot.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

So Far, So Good

Cole Hamels remains a two-pitch hurler despite the occasional appearance yesterday of what passes for a curve. Once again he yielded a early home run on a fastball right down Broad Street and once again he was saved by his mates who surely possess one of the more potent offenses in the game, and by the bullpen, which despite the absences of Brad Lidge and J.C. Romero (or maybe because of them!!) has been fantastic. It remains to be seen whether tougher opposition, particularly pitching, will neutralize or contain the Phils' potent bats. Hamels sports two wins this April, both at the expense of the Nationals, but he hasn't looked impressive in either one. Yesterday's outing was a slight improvement over his first start, but he hardly allayed fears in this quarter that he is a middling pitcher.

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Few things have given me greater pleasure this Spring than in watching old favorite Placido Polanco ply his trade in a Phillies uniform. There simply aren't many ballplayers out there on whom the label "professional hitter" looks so good. Polanco just does things right. He puts wood on the ball; he moves runners along; he is the consummate situational hitter. For good measure, he looks and acts like he's not only happy to be back but that he never left!

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Apart from his two K's against Roy Oswalt Sunday, Ryan Howard has been a model of consistency and opportunity this first week of the season. Of course, like everyone else on the offense, it remains to be seen how he will fare against front line pitching on a steadier basis, but nothing can take away from his going the other way yesterday against the shift. Last season, he would have pulled the ball to the second baseman playing in very shallow right field. Howard may be growing up.

Monday, April 12, 2010

More Pepper

The Yankees of the 1950's used to play the top teams more or less even and beat up on the lesser lights. Thus far in 2010 the Phils have followed this pattern poinding some of the worst teams in the NL to date, taking two of three from the Nationals (they should have won all of them) and sweeping the Astros in Houston. It remains to be seen how they will fare against the likes of the Cardinals or Rockies.

Prior to getting underway this campaign, the Phils were expected to score runs and pitch erratically. They have run true to form, hitting a ton and getting excellent starts two times from Roy Halladay and middling starts from everyone else. The surprise on the mound has been the bullpen, which overall has pitched very solidly.

Yesterday, the Phils faced their first true number one of the season, Roy Oswalt, and after surrendering a leadoff home run to Jimmy Rollins and another run in the second inning pitched well and effectively in limiting the Phils to their lowest hits and runs total of the season. Unfortunately for Oswalt and his mates, another Roy named Halladay started for the Phils and went the distance allowing a lone unearned run.

The Phils return to Philadelphia today for their home opener. The schedulers have granted them another shot at sustaining their uncharacteristic quick start with three more games against the Nationals.

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Barry Bonds announced he is "proud" of Mark McGwire for coming clean about the latter's use of performance-enhancing drugs. With proud friends like Bonds, McGwire must really feel secure as he continues his rehabilitation in the eyes of the HOF voters if not the general public.

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Mike Cuellar passed away about a week ago. When he arrived in Baltimore in the late '60's via a trade with the Astros, he became an integral part of one of the best starting rotations ever assembled. Cuellar always had a little trouble getting untracked in the first inning to pitching coach George Bamberger had him warm up a little extra hoping the lefty screwball specialist would leave his first bad inning in the bullpen. It didn't help but it sure sounded like a good idea.

Friday, April 09, 2010


While not exactly an ugly loss, the Phils defeat in the rubber game of their series in Washington had all the hallmarks of defeats of the last two years, namely, failure to capitalize on numerous opportunities. Let's just leave it at they shoulda' won yesterday.

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You need more reminders that pitching has always been and shall remain the name of the game? The only undefeated club in major league baseball is San Francisco.

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The warm greeting Tiger Woods received in August yesterday only confirms that the constituency with the biggest stake in prolonging his public humiliation is the media. The public long ago concluded his feet were of clay and moved on.

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Kyle Kendrick may have been a bit nervous in his first opportunity of the new season, but unfortunately he looked an awful lot, emphasis on awful, like the hurler who can't fool major league hitters. While it's true he replaces the injured Joe Blanton in the starting rotation, why didn't J.A. Happ, a more proven starter, or Jamie Moyer, the guy who beat Kendrick out for the last spot in the rotation, get the start ahead of him? After all, Kendrick was vying for the fifth spot, too, not number three.

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Three games does not a season make but the series just concluded in Washington ran pretty much according to form. The Phillies can hit a ton and Roy Halladay can pitch.

Thursday, April 08, 2010

One Pitch Shy

Get used to it, Phillies fans. The Cole Hamels you saw struggle last night is the pitcher you are going to see for the rest of the year, namely, a two-pitch hurler who gives up home runs, is easily rattled and will rely on an explosive offense to compensate for his shortcomings.

Hamels may have worked on a third pitch throughout Spring Training, but it wasn't in evidence last night as he relied on his decent fastball and excellent change almost exclusively. This combination is a pitch shy to be a very successful major league pitcher and everyone, especially opposing batters, knows it. Hamels either doesn't trust his curve or just doesn't have a good one, but there were key moments, especially in his last inning of work against the Nationals, where he should have thrown it.

Gary Matthews and Tom McCarthy did their usual blabbering best to talk up the two pitches Hamels does possess, but even Sarge called for the hook once or twice only to see the lefty throw the change.

It's going to be a long season from all three of these guys.

Tuesday, April 06, 2010

Pig-Headed About Pigskins

The Philadelphia Eagles and their media sycophants did their best to sabotage the Phillies' opener yesterday by announcing the Donovan McNabb trade on the eve of the baseball season.

No one can convince me the Eagles owner, GM and PR departments couldn't have made delaying the announcement 48 hours a condition of the deal. Instead, they went public when the Phillies should have basked in the spotlight all by their collective lonesomes. Comcast Sportsnet, which has failed to figure out the Phillies are this town's only consistent winners on the big stage, spent the first 39 minutes of an hour broadcast yesterday obsessing about a quarterback who is no longer here instead of leading with the Phils 11-1 triumph in Roy Halladay's and Placido Polanco's debuts.

This has always been a football town but over the last three seasons the Phils have at the very least pulled even in popularity with the Eagles due of course to having outperformed them. When Lurie and his minions parade down Broad Street they can act as if they own the town. Until then, a little decorum if not humility are in order. Comcast Sportsnet is under no obligation; they have neither.

Thursday, April 01, 2010


Make that ouch, ouch ouch!!!

The Phillies announced today starter Joe Blanton and relievers Brad Lidge and J.C.Romero will begin the season on the DL. When roughly a third of the pitchers you plan to carry north start the season rehabbing you know you're in trouble.

Pitching was a concern before the Phillies started camp; it's a bigger one now as they break it. Meanwhile, Kyle Kendrick has had quite an interesting few days. On Tuesday he learned he'd lost the battle for the fifth spot in the rotation and today he discovered he'd been reinstated, all without throwing a pitch.

Last year the Phils stumbled out of the gate as is their wont, but matters weren't helped when Jimmy Rollins made an early visit to the DL. As the man who starts the Phillies engine, J Roll was literally and figuratively sorely missed but their slow start was made worse by shaky starting pitching, especially from Brett Myers, and Lidge's slow recovery from injuries, a recovery that frankly he never really entirely made. Now it appears the Phils will begin the NL title defense in a deeper hole.

The offense with the exception of Raul Ibanez seems poised to take off again this season. Good thing because the Phils are likely to rely heavily on it to overcome their pitching shortcomings.

Anybody seen Cliff Lee lately? What? Rehabbing, too! He'd fit right in.