He had been scheduled to begin his rehab last night, but rain prevented that.
Don’t expect this to take very long. Probably just two or three games for Utley, who has not played since May 20 because of a strained right oblique. Remember, he played only nine rehab games after missing nearly three months of the season last year because of an injured knee. He has missed just a month this year, so that’s why I say just two or three games. I would be stunned if he’s not back before the end of the weekend.
The Nationals broadcasters last night suggested a player or two in the Washington dugout might have been involved in the Phanatic’s four-wheeler stalling before the game. Jayson Werth swears it wasn’t him.
QUESTION: The Nationals broadcasters were talking like you might have been involved in some sabotage?
WERTH: It was already done by the time I got over there. I tried to help him out a little bit. I’m not very mechanical.
QUESTION: So you’re not one of those guys fixing his cars in the winter?
WERTH: What’s that called when you hijack a car?
QUESTION: Hotwire it?
WERTH: I don’t know how to hotwire anything. No, I didn’t have anything to do with it unfortunately. It would have been funny if I did. (laughs) I watched the video and he’s sitting there talking to me, “I can’t get the thing to start.” It was funny. I saw it. It was hilarious. The whole thing was funny.
“No, I don’t,” he said. “As a matter of fact, we might be playing better than we could play.”
In other words, this team is playing equal to its talent or playing better than its talent, which is truly something considering the Phillies are 34-37 with the sixth-worst run differential (-48) in baseball. Of course, Ruben Amaro Jr. thought differently, and said the Phillies have not played to their capabilities.
So the general manager thinks the team has underachieved. The manager does not.
That brings me to the point of this post. I get tweets every day from Phillies fans saying, “Fire Charlie Manuel!” I got one last night when Manuel replaced Mike Adams with Antonio Bastardo to face Adam LaRoche in the eighth inning. If Bastardo doesn’t get this guy out, Manuel should be fired immediately! (Never mind it was the correct move.) Asked about Manuel’s job performance yesterday, Amaro said, “Charlie’s had a tough task just because, like I said, the team’s been a little incomplete. I think he’s tried to be creative with some of the lineup changes, shifting some people into the lineup. He’s doing everything he can to try to spark plug us and at some point it is up to the players to try to do it.”
It is wise Amaro sticks with Manuel through the end of the season because unless he is truly convinced the Phillies will play significantly better under new leadership, he only would be pointing more targets at himself. If he replaces Manuel and the team with the sixth-worst offense and seventh-worst pitching staff in baseball continues to lose, he will have fired the winningest manager in franchise history, one of only two managers in Phillies history to win a World Series, only to reinforce the opinion the personnel is bad, regardless of who is filling out the lineup card and making the pitching changes. And who supplies the talent? Who makes the trades, the free agent signings, the roster moves? Who gave Manuel this roster? Amaro.
Once the season is finished it probably is time for a new voice, especially if the Phillies miss the postseason for the second consecutive year. Sometimes a change just needs to be made, and Manuel has had a heck of a run. But before the end of the season? I just don’t see Ryne Sandberg or anybody else markedly improving a team that on paper — injuries or not (everybody has them) — is one of the worst in baseball. Good or bad, Manuel has earned the right to finish the season. He shouldn’t be fired because the front office’s offseason moves haven’t worked to this point and some of his core players continue to decline.
A few thoughts on the Phillies following their 3-7 road trip:
- There is a level of frustration settling into the Phillies’ clubhouse, an amount I haven’t seen in Charlie Manuel‘s nine seasons here. Just read Cliff Lee‘s comments Thursday in Minnesota, or what Cole Hamels told reporters after yesterday’s loss in Colorado. Is this a playoff team? “I’m not going to comment on that one,” Hamels said. “You can ask the other guys that one.” Remember, those comments are being made publicly, which certainly means the apathy/resignation/frustration is worse behind closed doors. That is troubling. I remember in seasons past, somebody like Jayson Werth would say confidently and almost nonchalantly, “Relax, everybody. We’re fine. We’re much better than this. We’ll pick it up when we need to pick it up.” They knew they would. You don’t hear that talk right now.
- The Phillies are 25th in baseball in runs per game. They are 24th in ERA. In seasons past, the Phillies always had one thing going for it: a great offense or a great pitching staff. You could always say, “Well, if they add a bat (Hunter Pence) or if they add an arm (Lee or Roy Oswalt) at the trade deadline it could push them over the top.” You can’t say that with this team. There are too many holes. Where would you even start?
- Look at where the Phillies rank in OPS at every position. Catcher: 23rd at .651. First base: 17th at .763. Second base: 20th at .671. Third base: 13th at .727. Shortstop: Ninth at .747. Left field: second at .876. Center field: 27th at .616. Right field: 23rd at .691. Second base would be better if Chase Utley had remained healthy, but other than that the only two positions holding their own against the best in baseball are left field (Domonic Brown) and shortstop (Jimmy Rollins).
- If you say, well, the Phillies are only 8 1/2 games back in the NL East (I’m not sure why anybody would say that, but still …), remember the NL East is probably the worst division in baseball.
- Looking for a reason to keep the faith? That’s tough, but I guess if you’re going to hold onto something hold onto this: Manuel’s teams traditionally are much better in the second half (.610 winning percentage after the All-Star break from 2005-12 is second-best in baseball). Of course, if they keep playing like this they could be buried in the standings and some of their top players could be traded by July 31. That traditional second-half surge might not matter.
- Take a look at the upcoming free agent class at MLB Trade Rumors. I don’t see a lot of guys that could help the Phillies turn around their fortunes quickly. Is there anybody that gets you excited enough to say, “I’d be OK if the Phillies shelled out a ton of cash for him?” There is Shin-Soo Choo and Jacoby Ellsbury and that’s about it as far as high on-base percentage bats the Phillies could use. (Forget about Robinson Cano. I can’t believe the Yankees will let him sign elsewhere.)
But that dream has faded over the past eight-plus months of regular-season baseball. The Phillies missed the postseason in 2012 and improved to just 32-35 following last night’s 3-2 victory over the Twins at Target Field. The victory snapped a five-game losing streak as the Phillies left for a weekend series in Colorado with the sixth-worst record in the National League.
“The past year and a half hasn’t gone the way I would have anticipated,” said Lee, who improved to 8-2 with a 2.55 ERA. “It’s why you play the games. You never know. I don’t think anyone here is happy with the way we’ve played in that time frame. It’s due to a lot of injuries. There are some good excuses, but they’re still excuses. We’re the Philadelphia Phillies. We should play better than we have.”
But can this team win as it is currently constituted? The offense and bullpen each are one of the worst in baseball.
“I can’t look at it any other way, besides I expect us to win and catch up with the Braves and get into the postseason,” Lee said. “That’s the only way you can look at it.”
Does he want to stay if the team doesn’t turn things around?
“I definitely want to win,” he said. “There’s no doubt about that.”
But if it doesn’t turn around?
“I want to win,” he repeated. “I don’t know how else to say it besides that. I want to win.”
Lee’s name already has been an endless topic of conversation weeks before the July 31 Trade Deadline, and the buzz should reach a manic state in the next few weeks if the Phillies continue to struggle. Lee signed a five-year, $120 million contract before the 2011 season, but he has continued to dominate and a team in need of an ace certainly will be interested in acquiring him.
The Phillies have said they have a better chance to win in the future with Lee than without him. While that is true, when asked if he is prepared to play out the string the final two months of the season if things don’t improve, Lee said, “I don’t have any control over that. I know that I want to win and I’ll voice that to whoever. And that’s that. I want to win here. That’s why I signed here. And that’s where my focus is.”
Of course, it wasn’t supposed to be this way. The Phillies were supposed to be the Yankees of the National League. They were supposed to be heavy favorites for the World Series every year.
“Yeah, that’s what I expected,” Lee said. “That’s what I expected. We’ve had one chance (to win a World Series) in two-and-a-half years and this year is not over yet. I expected us to get multiple shots at it, but there are 29 other teams thinking the same thing so nothing is going to be given to you. Nobody feels sorry for you or any of that. You’ve got to go out there and earn it. I’m going to continue to do what I can to give this team a chance to win when I pitch and that’s really the only thing I can control.”
Can he throw strikes?
If he can, he should put serious heat on the left-handers currently in the Phillies bullpen: Antonio Bastardo, Jeremy Horst and Joe Savery. The Phillies optioned right-hander Tyler Cloyd to Triple-A Lehigh Valley today as left-hander John Lannan will take his place in the rotation Monday against the Nationals. The Phillies recalled Diekman to take Cloyd’s place, although he will not join the team until tomorrow in Colorado.
Diekman’s overall numbers in Triple-A are not good – 24 walks in 30 innings and a 5.70 ERA in 30 appearances – but he has been fantastic against left-handed hitters. They are hitting just .161 with a .461 OPS against him with just five hits and two walks in 34 plate appearances.
It is no secret the Phillies bullpen has been a major problem this season, and the team’s left-handers have played a significant role in those struggles. Bastardo, who is the bullpen’s top lefty, has struggled in tight spots. He allowed the game-winning run to score Tuesday and put the game-tying and game-winning runs on base Wednesday. He allowed big hits against left-handed hitters each time. Lefties are hitting .263 with an .823 OPS against him.
Lefties are hitting .282 with an .832 OPS against Horst, who is second on the team in appearances despite a 5.55 ERA. Savery has pitched just three times with the Phillies, although lefties are 3-for-4 against him.
If Diekman shows something this weekend at Coors Field he could remain as a lefty specialist and the Phillies could option Horst or Savery to Triple-A on Monday, when they need to activate Lannan for his start at Citizens Bank Park. If you’re wondering about Bastardo, he’s not going anywhere.
It might be the most frustrated I’ve seen him when talking about his offense.
It started innocently enough with a few questions about Ryan Howard’s recent struggles and if they might be connected to his ailing left knee. Howard entered tonight’s game at Target Field with just one home run in his past 107 plate appearances. He is on pace to hit just 17 home runs with 77 RBIs this season and his .735 on-base-plus-slugging percentage ranks 100th out of 163 qualifying players in baseball.
That clearly is not the production the Phillies need from their cleanup hitter.
Asked if Manuel could hit somebody else fourth, Manuel said, “What the (heck) are you getting at? Who’s going to hit there? Let me ask you a question. Let me turn that around some. Write what you want to write.”
Well, how about Domonic Brown?
“I could put anybody in there, OK?” Manuel said. “I’ll do the managing. Whoever hits there, hits there.”
But it must be alarming for more than just Manuel that Howard’s production has been declining in recent seasons. The Phillies owe him $85 million following this year.
“Of course I’m concerned,” Manuel said. “I’m concerned with everybody. Hey, look, I’m concerned with every (single) player I’ve got. Yeah, I’m concerned. I want to win. We say that we want to win the division and we want to go to the World Series, right? I’m concerned about every one of our guys. I’m concerned about that (.247) batting average. I’m concerned about that. I’m not only concerned about one guy, I’m concerned about them all. How about that? I don’t know what I can do about it. I can go back to my room and sit there and look at the walls, and get up and come to the ballpark and look at the walls. I don’t know what I can do about it. The only thing I can do is to put them out there and let them play.”
Asked if he was upset about the offense or the questions concerning his offense, Manuel said, “A little of both, probably. We are inconsistent performance-wise. And when you’ve got that, it’s hard. We won five games in a row, then we lose four. That’s kind of how we’ve been playing.”
He is getting closer to a return from the 15-day disabled list, but he said today at Target Field that no rehab assignment has been scheduled. But he has been swinging the bat this week, and he said it has gone well.
“So far, so good,” he said.
Utley has been on the DL since May 21 because of a strained right oblique. He said he could be back by the middle of the month. Of course, the middle of the month officially is this weekend, so maybe a return early next week is feasible. Utley probably won’t need more than a few games to return.
“I think it’s still realistic,” he said. “Everything has gone well so far. Tomorrow I’m going to probably do the same, maybe pick up the intensity a little bit and go from there. But I don’t have an actual date (in mind to return). … The guys who I’ve talked to, who have had this in the past, they said once you start swinging, a few said it was sore and they had to back off for a few days. So far I haven’t had to do that.”
The Phillies tied last night’s game against the Twins in the top of the eighth inning at Target Field only to have Mike Adams and Antonio Bastardo allow the game-winning run to score in the bottom half of the inning.
We’ve seen plenty of performances like this from the bullpen this year.
Back in February, when the Phillies opened spring training in Clearwater, they thought the bullpen could be a position of strength. The bullpen had a 2.84 ERA the final two months last season, so they figured with the additions of Adams and Chad Durbin to a group that included Jonathan Papelbon, Antonio Bastardo and a host of talented young pitchers, they would continue to take a step forward. But the bullpen has taken a big step back. Its 4.48 ERA is the third-worst in baseball. It has allowed 42.9 percent of its inherited runners to score, which is the worst in baseball. Its 1.46 WHIP is second-worst.
Let’s take a look at the stable of relievers, and how they have fared:
- Jonathan Papelbon. He is being paid a fortune to close, but he is doing the job. He is 11-for-11 in save opportunities with a 1.59 ERA, but you’ve got to think the Phillies will try to move him if they decide to sell before the July 31 trade deadline. It doesn’t make much sense to have a high-priced closer on a rebuilding team.
- Mike Adams. The Phillies signed him to a two-year, $12 million contract in December, acknowledging it carried risk following TOC surgery in October. Adams’ stuff hasn’t been the same and he has had problems staying healthy. He is 1-4 with a 4.22 ERA with a 7.11 ERA since coming off the DL May 26.
- Antonio Bastardo. He has a 2.42 ERA in 27 appearances, but a 1.478 WHIP and is averaging 5.6 walks per nine innings. He also is striking out fewer batters than he has in the past. Bastardo always seems to be in trouble. Maybe that explains why he has entered a game with runners on base just three times. He has allowed two of four inherited runners to score, including one last night.
- Chad Durbin. Released. He had a 9.00 ERA in 16 appearances.
- Phillippe Aumont. Manuel specifically mentioned Aumont last night when asked about the bullpen’s struggles. He said everybody expected him to take a step forward this year. But he had an alarming 2.077 WHIP, averaging 6.9 walks per nine innings before he got sent to Triple-A last month. In eight appearances with the IronPigs, he has an 8.59 ERA and has walked 12 batters in 7 1/3 innings.
- Jeremy Horst. He is second on the team with 26 appearances, but has a 5.55 ERA. That kind of sums up the bullpen’s struggles right there.
- Raul Valdes. The Phillies sent him to Triple-A after posting a 7.65 ERA in 10 appearances.
- Mike Stutes. He has had good results since coming up from Triple-A, carrying a 1.80 ERA in eight appearances. He has walked just one batter in 10 innings.
- Justin De Fratus. The Phillies wanted him to open the season with the team, but they didn’t think his arm was where it needed to be. De Fratus has a 1.80 ERA and a fantastic 0.800 WHIP in 13 appearances. You wonder if he could move into Adams’ role if Adams continues to struggle. He has the coaching staff’s trust.
- B.J. Rosenberg. Ruben Amaro Jr. called up Rosenberg on May 17 to replace Valdes, saying he was throwing the best and he had a big arm that could strike out people. But Rosenberg posted a 12.00 ERA in three appearances, following a 6.12 ERA in 22 appearances last season. Rosenberg throws hard, but he hasn’t proven he can get hitters out on a consistent basis.
- Joe Savery. He has been with the team three times this season after throwing the ball well in Triple-A. But he has only pitched twice with the Phillies.
- Jake Diekman. He has not pitched with the Phillies this season, but I include him here because they raved about his arm and upside, and with the struggles of Horst and Valdes he could have been called up at some point, except he can’t throw strikes. He has a 5.70 ERA and has walked 24 batters in 30 innings in 30 appearances with Lehigh Valley.
I’m sure he had hoped for a better homecoming.
I wrote yesterday about Revere’s struggles, and where the Phillies see him fitting into their future plans. Revere has a .562 OPS, which is sixth-lowest in baseball out of 164 qualifying players. (It could be worse. The Phillies offered B.J. Upton a five-year, $55 million contract in the offseason, but he signed with the Braves instead. He has a .549 OPS.) Revere has not played like the Gold Glove-caliber defender the Phillies touted, either. But they say they will remain patient with him. I understand this. They need to keep playing Revere and hope he turns things around, so going into the offseason they know if they need a centerfielder or not. If Revere turns it around and shows he’s capable of being a .300 hitter and good defender, then they can try to fill other holes. But if Revere continues to struggle then they have one more hole to fill. And they certainly don’t need another hole to fill.