As the Phils get ready for their first spring training game, tomorrow, against Florida State, they have made several announcements after the arrival of all of their players to camp:
1) Charlie Manuel announced that the team was going to do some more small ball this season, which was quickly emphasised by him talking to the team’s lead-off man, and one of the leaders of the team, Jimmy Rollins last Thursday. This was followed by announcements that he was going to allow possible Hall of Famer Jim Thome to help some of the hitters improve on their hitting approach, and that he was going to have them bunt more (for base hits). Mike Schmidt, who is now in camp as a special coach, will also be helping the batters’ with their hitting approach, along with fellow Hall of Famer, and Iron Pigs coach Ryne Sandburg, while staying in camp a bit longer. While this is good news, since using small ball, as well as stealing more bases, should give the opposing defenses something to think about, I will not be convinced until the Phils leave Florida in late March with Juan Pierre as one of their players coming off the bench, since he would be a good option to use late in games because of both his speed and bat control.
2) Jose Contreras had another bullpen session, and is continuing to pitch fine with no elbow trouble, according to pitching coach Rich Dubee. This is good news, as it should give the team several good eighth innings options between him, Antonio Bastardo and Chad Qualls, if all three players make the team out of spring training.
3) And speaking of pitchers, starter Cliff Lee missed a bullpen session last week because of abdominal problems, and was told to skip the session. Lee said that he is feeling fine now and should be able to pitch in a bullpen session today. Hopefully, it was only a temporary problem.
4) Speaking of players’ health, Ryan Howard is right now in Baltimore, having a check-up with foot and ankle specialist Mark Myerson, to check on his achilles tendon, to make sure that there’s no problem with it, since it was mentioned during the weekend that Howard was having a delayed reaction to the sutures. GM Ruben Amaro, Jr. later announced that they doubt that it was a major problem. Anyway, it should help the Phils decide how they should continue their approach on Howard’s rehab, although they don’t really expect him back until about late May at the earliest. My opinion is that they should take as much time as they can to get Howard back healthy, as they already have a few options to play first base.
and 5), Chase Utley has announced that he should be able to come back from his leg troubles last year, while it is expected that he will be given the occasional rest, to help his legs, while Placido Polanco has announced that he is ready to go.
Presently mired in a five game losing streak, the first place Phillies (42-35) travels to Oakland to play the Athletics (41-34, 2nd American League West) for a three games interleague play series. The first game of the series will be played tonight in McAfee Coliseum at 10:05 pm Eastern (7:05 pm Pacific). The Phillies will be sending Jamie Moyer (7-4, 4.09) to the mound, as he comes off a long start against the BoSox on June 17, where he would go only five innings, giving up two earned runs on four hits, in the Phillies’ 3-0 lost. Lifetime against the A’s, he is 17-15, including two shutouts, with an ERA of 4.46. He is looking to regain the team’s lead in victory while trying to see if he can help pitch the Phillies out of their present swoon. His opponent will be Joe Blanton (3-10, 4.81), who is coming off his fourth straight lost, this time at the hands of the Diamondbacks on June 18, where he would only go three innings, giving up eight earned runs on seven hits, in the Athletics’ 11-1 lost. In sixteen starts for the A’s, they are 4-12 behind him. He will be trying to end his personal losing streak while trying to see if he can keep the Phillies’ offense from being able to restart its engine.
During their last five games, the Phillies’ offense has been placed in neutral while starting pitching has allowed the opposing team to score first. In fact, in all of their last nine loses, the Phillies have trailed their opponent right from the start, and, for the most part, had been unable to catch up, or when they do catch up, their pitching will sadly give the lead back. The Phils’ sputtering offense may have to resort to playing small ball for a while, getting away from their homering always and often style, if they intend to win games again. And the offense will also have to start acting a whole lot smarter while they are each standing inside the batter’s box. No more swinging at the first pitch, whether its a fastball or not, no more swinging at pitches that are either high or low, or out of the strike zone altogether (I mean especially you Howard), try to stay patient inside the batter box, start doing some hit and run when either Jimmy Rollins or Shane Victorino is on base, steal more bases, find ways to move the runners into scoring position, be willing to sacrifice themselves so that the team can win ballgames. But most of all, try to relax and just be patient while in the batter’s box. They will also have to stop worrying about whether they can stack up with the American League elite; Guys, just go out there, stay within your own comfort zone, and prove to yourselves that you are able to stay up with the best by just doing it. Once you do, I’m sure things will turn around.
The Phillies have a one game lead over the Marlins who also had yesterday off. Their lead over the Mets had increased to four games as the Mets lost their game last night to the Mariners, while the Braves find themselves behind the Phillies by four and a half games after their lost to the Brew crew. As the Phillies begin the first game of their three cities nine games road trip, the Marlins will start their series with the Tampa Bay Rays in Miami for three games, the Mets will continue their three games series with the Mariners in New York and the Braves will continue their three games series with the Brewers. The Phillies will be trying to recapture their winning ways as they travel to Oakland, Texas, and Atlanta, while hoping that they can increase their divisional lead over the pesky fish.