By Chris Murray
For the Chris Murray Report
PHILADELPHIA—In a week in which the Phillies face the possibility of not having starting pitcher Roy Halladay until maybe September or possibly not at all, the Phillies are facing a crossroads in the early season with a combination of injuries and players not playing up to their potential.
Phillies team doctor Michael Ciccotti said for Halladay to come back in September, he would have to get to the point where he has all his range of motion in the shoulder.
“(Halladay) needs to meet certain milestones before he can progress to the next level,” said Ciccotti. “If he achieves his range of motion if he’s strong and he can pick up a ball. If he can go to a mound and he can pitch and he’s comfortable. He has to pass those tests along the way and if he’s not comfortable and we’re not comfortable, we’re not going to let him get on the mound and pitch.”
As it stands now, the Phillies (20-22) are 3.5 games out of first place behind the Atlanta Braves in the National League East and they are now down two starting pitchers. John Lannan, who had strained ligaments in his knee, is expected to be off the disabled list in June.
But the real issue facing the Phillies is that their run of success that goes back 2007 and includes one World Series title, two National League pennants and five National East titles is slowly coming to an end.
That’s not to say the 2013 season is a done deal by any stretch of the imagination because we’re not even at the All-Star Break just yet. The Phils can still contend for a playoff spot and a division title, but they don’t have a lot of margin for long stretches of games where they struggle to hit, have bad starts by their pitchers or have their bullpen blow games.
Shortstop Jimmy Rollins recently told MLB.com that team could be broken up if they don’t start winning on a consistent basis
“We’ve just got to make sure we do what we need to do before they blow it up,” Rollins said.
You have to think that at some point Cole Hamels (1-6, 4.61 ERA) is going to break out of his current funk. If he doesn’t do it anytime soon, then more than likely, the Phillies will be sellers by the time the July 31 trade deadline.
Oddly enough, Phillies starters outside of Halladay, Hamels and Cliff Lee, have combined for a 7-2 record so far this season while aforementioned big three are combined 7-12.
“We haven’t gotten the pitching performance — other than Lee — the guys at the top of the rotation haven’t pitched the way we know they can pitch, in particular Roy wasn’t very consistent, although he threw a couple good games,” said Phillies general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. “And Cole hasn’t been real consistent. But I am less worried about Cole than our offense, which has to come around and be a little more consistent.”
While the offense has played better within the last week or so, Amaro said he is concerned about Delmon Young, who is 2-for-11 on the current homestand and Ryan Howard, who is also 2-for-11, in the Phillies last three games.
“Right now, we have to be patient and see if Delmon starts swinging it and Ryan is going to have to start swinging it,” Amaro said. “If those guys do, then’ we’ll be OK. If they don’t, then we will have to figure out what we are going to do.”
Phillies manager Charlie Manuel said Howard has to work on finding some consistency at staying on the baseball.
“He’s not right yet,” Manuel said. “His swing is not consistent right now and he’s got to keep working until he finds it.”
The Phillies, whether they want to or not, are going to be finding how good or not so good their minor league farm system is getting ready pitchers are ready to start in the big leagues. So far, Jonathan Pettibone (3-0, 3.41 ERA) has raised as few eyes with his performances on the mound since being called up from Lehigh Valley.
At some point, teams around will the league have a better understanding of what Pettibone is doing on the mound and they will make the appropriate adjustments. If Pettibone can work through that, the Phillies will be in good shape.
Another possible “X” factor for the Phillies starting rotation is Zambrano, who recently signed a minor league contract with the team. In 12 years in the majors with the Chicago Cubs and Miami Marlins, Zambrano is 132-91 and has a 3.66 earned run average.
If the 31-year-old Zambrano can overcome his volatile past which includes fights with teammates and he comes back and still has something left, it will certainly give the Phillies a much-needed boost.
“We’re just trying to find some additional depth and some options for us,” said Phillies assistant general manager Scott Proefrock. “It’s low risk and hopefully high reward …It’s one of those thing where just get him down there and see where he’s at. From the reports we got the other day, he’s in pretty good shape. We have to get a gauge of where he’s at.”
Meanwhile, some of the players feel that they are on the verge of putting together a run of game that would put them near the top of the division.
“I’ve been feeling that way the whole season,” said Phillies leftfielder Domonic Brown. “We’ve got a great team here. We just got to put it together.”