Phed Up by Jeff Lyons
The last time I filled this space, I wrote that I wasn't worried about the Phillies and their slow start. Guess what? I'm officially worried.
Injuries to closer Tom Gordon, Ryan Madson and Ryan Howard and some really questionable moves by manager Charlie Manuel have the Phils four games under. 500 and 6 1/2 games out of first place. And to be honest, I don't see things getting any better, even after Wednesday's late-inning heroics.
The bullpen was a concern before the season started. Now, with four minor-league refugees forced into duty, the situation has worsened. They moved Brett Myers out of the rotation to take over for Gordon. Antonio Alfonseca has been awful lately and the only reliable arm belongs to Geoff Geary. But Geary can't pitch every day. And it's hard to watch Fabio Castro, Yoel Hernandez, Francisco Rosario and Clay Condrey when you've got your hands covering your eyes.
And then there's the manager. The players seem to like him. He's caught a lot of flak for his "down-home" demeanor and his less-than-stellar camera presence. But a couple of moves this week against Arizona really concerned me.
On Monday night, Freddy Garcia was had thrown just 70 pitches and was doing quite well. Manuel decided to pinch hit for him in the 7th inning, and the bullpen promptly cost them the game. Why not let Garcia stay in the game and bunt, moving a baserunner to third? On Tuesday, he let Adam Eaton bat for himself in the 7th inning with runners on first and third. Instead of using a pinch-hitter, Manuel let Eaton hit and he grounded out to end the inning. Eaton then gave up the go-ahead run in the bottom of the inning. It's clear Manuel let Eaton stay in because he had no confidence in his bullpen.
Something needs to happen before the season slips away. The Braves and Mets are playing too well for the Phils to stand by and do nothing.
It's time to get rid of Manuel. It's been said that managers don't really have that much of an impact on the outcome of a game, but I disagree. Those two moves this week really hurt the Phils and probably cost them both games.
Charlie is a swell guy, but from here it looks like he's in over his head. I don't want to see Jimy Williams, the current bench coach, replacing Manuel. I want someone new. Somebody like Terry Pendleton, a former National League MVP and now a coach for the Braves. He's been around successful teams through his career. Or John Russell, the manager of the Phils top farm team in Ottawa. He's interviewed for a couple of big league jobs and will have a job in the show before too long. Either of those two would be fine with me. I don't want to see any more retread signings.
The Phillies also need to consider putting Howard on the disabled list. He's got leg issues and sitting out for two or three games isn't going to do any good. He needs two weeks to get healthy so he can start mashing the ball again. Wednesday's pinch-hit grand slam was encouraging, but we won't know more about his legs until this weekend.
General manager Pat Gillick deserves some, if not most, of the blame for this mess. He knew the bullpen was a disaster waiting to happen, yet he did nothing. He gave us Wes Helms to play third base. Wes Freaking Helms almost makes me miss David Bell. Gillick traded away Bobby Abreu for nothing.
With the way things have been going lately, I'm not really optimistic about the rest of the season. We can hope Gordon and Madson come back from their injuries and pitch well. We can hope all of the starting pitchers go deep into games, negating the need to use AAA pitchers in tight spots. And we can hope Ryan Howard returns to form. That's a lot to ask for.
All winter long, I look forward to the return of baseball. These first six weeks have pretty much spoiled the fun.
Jeff Lyons, senior managing editor of the Philadelphia Bar Reporter and Bar Reporter Online, is a lifelong Phillies fan whose astrological sign is the hit and run.