By Chris Murray
For the Chris Murray Report
Last season, the Phillies managed to win 97 games and the National East despite sending 18 players to the disabled list.
Coming into opening day, the Phillies already have second baseman Chase Utley on the DL with a knee injury and closer Brad Lidge is also on the DL with a torn rotator cuff. But as they proved in Friday’s comeback win against Houston, the Phillies still find ways to win.
“A lot of people on the outside are always talking about our offense and I think they forget that we did have a lot of injuries last year and we did manage to win the most games in the major leagues,” said first baseman Ryan Howard. “I think that speak volumes for the character and personality of our team.”
While injuries have been the game changer for the worse for many teams around baseball, the Phillies’ confidence in their ability to overcome injuries has been simply unshakable. They are a team that expects to win no matter who they have in their starting lineup.
“That’s the belief,” said Phillies shortstop Jimmy Rollins. “We want to be 100 percent healthy. Everybody in their right role, right now, but that’s not the case. I would say for the last four or five seasons, we’ve had somebody go down with some significant time, but found a way to win.”
Rollins, who first came up with the Phillies in 2001, has certainly seen the character of this clubhouse evolve over the years. Before he emerged as one of the team’s leaders, Rollins remembers there was a time where team didn’t have that kind of confidence in the face of injuries.
“Whoever takes that role at that moment knows what’s expected. They know what this team is supposed to do and they count on that mindset now,” Rollins said. “Years ago, that wouldn’t have been the case. It was like ‘I finally I got my break.’ Now, you kind of get the feeling like ‘I know my time is limited and I need to make the most of it, so when that guy comes back, I’m a guy they want to keep on the team’.”
One of those players that has managed to get some time during the course of the Phillies injury woes has been infielder Wilson Valdez, who saw a significant amount time last season with injuries to players like Rollins and Utley. He said he’s always ready to contribute when his team needs him.
“We have to go in there and cover those guys spots. That’s why we’re here. We’re here to play hard, play the right way and make things happen,” said Valdez, whose single tied the game in the ninth inning of the Phillies comeback win over the Houston Astros in Friday’s season opener.
“When I had a chance to play and an opportunity in that kind of situation to do my job, I don’t try to do too much, but get on base. I have to do my job anytime I have a chance to play to help the team to win.”
Valdez certainly did that with his game-tying single in the comeback against Houston. In that game, the Phillies offense didn’t get going until late innings. While Rollins, Howard, Ben Francisco and Carlos Ruiz set the table, it was Valdez and John Mayberry Jr.,who put the Phillies over the top.
Mayberry’s single to center gave the Phillies the walk-off victory in the bottom of of the ninth.
“We realize that we’re going to be a big part of this,” Mayberry said. “If we’re going to get to where we want to go everybody has to participate.”
But as the Phillies try to push their way through their schedule over the next several weeks without Utley and Lidge, Phillies manager Charlie Manuel still has high expectations for the team he has on the field right now.
“I think when you look at our pitching, I think we’re going be in a lot of games,” Manuel said during Friday’s post-game press conference. “If we can score some runs, I think we’ve a got a chance to be really good. We’ve got guys in our lineup that are good hitters. They became stars because they were good hitters. We need those guys to get back to having the kind of years they are capable of having.
“At the same time, the people that we got and are getting a chance to play they’ve got to carry their own, too. It’s not going to easy because every team in the National League is out to get us.”