Tag Archives: Charlie Manuel

Eagles Have Huge Expectations for Jeremy Maclin in 2014

4 Jun

By Chris Murray
For the Chris Murray Report and the Philadelphia Sunday Sun

Eagles wide receiver Jeremy Maclin addresses reporters after organized team activities last week at the Eagles Nova Care Practice facility in South Philadelphia. Photo by Chris Murray.

Eagles wide receiver Jeremy Maclin addresses reporters after organized team activities last week at the Eagles Nova Care Practice facility in South Philadelphia. Photo by Chris Murray.

PHILADELPHIA—When Eagles wide receiver Jeremy Maclin took the field for the Eagles organized team activities in late May, he ran patterns, participated in the various passing drills and even flopped around the field a few times diving for passes.

“Mac’s back,” said Eagles quarterback Nick Foles. “We’re excited to have him back. He’s doing a great job, he looks really good out there. He’s going to be a big part of this offense.”

For Maclin, doing the normal things that NFL wide receivers do to get ready for the upcoming season is something that he doesn’t take for granted. Last season, Maclin was all set to be a big contributor to head coach Chip Kelly’s fast-paced offense, but an injury to his right anterior-cruciate ligament in his right knee during seven-on-seven drills ended his season.

Going through the first set of preseason workouts, Maclin said he’s not feeling any ill effects from the injury on the field and that his time in rehabilitation has prepared him to be back on the field.

“I’ve been at it for awhile. I’ve been since day one there with the team doing everything that they’re doing and it’s become routine now,” Maclin said. “I think throughout the rehab process my ability to continue to get better and progress each and every day. Once that started happening, I think that builds confidence and once you get confidence, the rest is just putting in the work.”

In 2013, the Eagles had the NFL’s No.2-ranked offense in total yardage, averaging 417 yards per game with Maclin on the sidelines. The Birds were also 4th in the league in points per game, scoring 27 per game. Quarterback Nick Foles, who took over for the injured Michael Vick, had a breakout year and led the Eagles to their first playoff appearance since 2010.

During the course of the Birds success last year, Maclin could only watch from the sidelines or even in the owner’s box at Lincoln Financial Field while spending many a lonely day rehabbing his injured right knee.

“It was tough with the new era beginning here in Philadelphia and my contract situation that I had, it was tough, but at the same time I was happy to see guys get out there and make plays and watch guys step up and fill that role. I am fortunate and I’m excited to be able to play football again.”

Despite the season-ending injury, the Eagles thought enough of Maclin, who was a free agent at the 2013 season, to sign him to a one-year deal with the possibility of him getting an even better deal if he performs well.

Eagles head coach Chip Kelly said he’s looking forward to seeing what Maclin can do in the offense and is expecting big things from the former Missouri star wideout.

“I was really excited about how he fits in with what we do because of what he can do,” Kelly said. “Losing him early in camp (last season) was disappointing because you only got a taste of him. Having him out there at full speed, he’s doing a great job.”

The last time Jeremy Maclin played a full regular season schedule he caught 69 passes for 857 yards and seven touches. Coming into 2014 season, Maclin said the measure of a good season for him is not his personal stats, but whether the Birds can do even better than last year’s playoff appearance.
“To consider it the best year of my career is to help this team win,” Maclin said. “I want to get further than we did last year. I plan on being a big part of this offense. If we have the success I think we can have and get to where I think we can get to, I think the stats will come, so I’m not going hang my head on certain stats or certain numbers. I’m just going to play football and do what my team asks me to do.”
Of course, Maclin was asked if he felt any added pressure to be the No. 1 receiver with the departure of DeSean Jackson, who is now playing for the Washington Redskins. An unemotional Maclin gave the reporter a very simple answer.
“Not at all,” he said.

 

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Phillies Players Blame Themselves for Manuel’s Dismissal, Ready to Work with Sandberg

17 Aug

By Chris Murray

For the Chris Murray Report and the Philadelphia Sunday Sun

Phillies interim manager Ryne Sandberg wants the team to know the last 41 games of the season are important.

Phillies interim manager Ryne Sandberg wants the team to know the last 41 games of the season are important.

PHILADELPHIA—With the Phillies 15 games below .500 and their awful performance after the All-Star break, you should now have all the evidence you need to understand that team’s run of success in recent years has to come to an end.

The Phillies fired Charlie Manuel Friday after compiling four wins in 23 games after the All-Star Break and replaced him with Ryne Sandberg, who is in a 42-game tryout as the Phils interim manager.

But Manuel’s dismissal wasn’t necessarily about his abilities as a manager. It was emblematic of an aging team that is in decline and is about as good as they’re going to get this season, which explains the Phillies current 53-68 record.

From 2007 to 2011, the Phillies won five straight division titles, a World Series title and two National League pennants. Like it does with every good team, age and injuries over the last two seasons have finally caught up with them.

At the end of the day, general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. is going to have to do an overhaul of a team that needs to move forward rather than hanging on to players who are nothing more than aging shells of their former selves.

If you’re going to bring in a new manager, I think you’re also going to have to bring in new, younger players who are going to buy into the new manager’s philosophy and at some point you have to start growing your younger talent.

That means you have to say good-bye to popular fan-favorites. I thought it was a mistake for Amaro to sign second baseman baseman Chase Utley to a two-year contract extension.  Don’t get it twisted, Utley has been a warrior of a player for the Phillies and a key contributor during the team’s playoff run.

But with his degenerative knees and his age, Utley’s days as a regular second baseman are numbered. I personally think they should have traded him for some prospects or some younger player.

As much as I admire and respect shortstop Jimmy Rollins, I think it’s time for him to move forward as well. After this season, he will have one year left on his contract. After next year or maybe even before that, it’s thank you for your service and the good things that you’ve done for the team.

While he is still one of the best defensive shortstops in the National League and maybe in baseball, at the plate he hasn’t hit above .280 since winning the National League Most Valuable Player Award in 2007.

Rollins hasn’t been the most disciplined hitter, which is surprising for a veteran ball player of his stature. He doesn’t work the count and often swings at bad pitches.

A couple weeks ago, the team placed the 34-year-old Rollins on waivers since he has a no-trade clause in his contract, but there were no takers.  Unless he has a huge resurgence next year, I don’t see the team signing him to an extension. Eventually, they’re going to have to look to their farm system to find a replacement.

Meanwhile, the Phillies are going to have see if 36-year-old Roy Halladay, whose contract is up at the end of this year, has anything left following his shoulder surgery.  He is currently on a rehab assignment with Phillies minor league affiliate in Clearwater, Fla.

In his first start, Halladay allowed three runs and struck out four. The velocity on his fastball was somewhere between 85 and 87-miles per hour. That’s not good enough for him to come back to the major league level.

The bottom-line now is that the Phillies are officially in rebuilding mode and for them to get better they will inevitably have to say adios to guys who helped build and shape the Phillies last run of success.

Just as Rollins, Utley, Ryan Howard and Cole Hamels became the foundation of 2007 to 2011, especially after the team unloaded guys like Jim Thome and Bobby Abreu, a new crop of kids will come in and hopefully achieve what those guys did.

End of an Era: Manuel Firing Means It’s Rebuilding Time for Phillies

17 Aug

By Chris Murray

For the Chris Murray Report and the Philadelphia Sunday

 Phillies general manager Ruben Amaro looks to rebuild Phillies after firing Charlie Manuel.

Phillies general manager Ruben Amaro looks to rebuild Phillies after firing Charlie Manuel.

PHILADELPHIA—With the Phillies 15 games below .500 and their awful performance after the All-Star break, you should now have all the evidence you need to understand that team’s run of success in recent years has to come to an end.

The Phillies fired Charlie Manuel Friday after compiling four wins in 23 games after the All-Star Break and replaced him with Ryne Sandberg, who is in a 42-game tryout as the Phils interim manager.

But Manuel’s dismissal wasn’t necessarily about his abilities as a manager. It was emblematic of an aging team that is in decline and is about as good as they’re going to get this season, which explains the Phillies current 53-68 record.

From 2007 to 2011, the Phillies won five straight division titles, a World Series title and two National League pennants. Like it does with every good team, age and injuries over the last two seasons have finally caught up with them.

At the end of the day, general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. is going to have to do an overhaul of a team that needs to move forward rather than hanging on to players who are nothing more than aging shells of their former selves.

If you’re going to bring in a new manager, I think you’re also going to have to bring in new, younger players who are going to buy into the new manager’s philosophy and at some point you have to start growing your younger talent.

That means you have to say good-bye to popular fan-favorites. I thought it was a mistake for Amaro to sign second baseman baseman Chase Utley to a two-year contract extension.  Don’t get it twisted, Utley has been a warrior of a player for the Phillies and a key contributor during the team’s playoff run.

Charlie Manuel led the Phillies to five straight division titles, a World Series title and two National League Pennants.

Charlie Manuel led the Phillies to five straight division titles, a World Series title and two National League Pennants.

But with his degenerative knees and his age, Utley’s days as a regular second baseman are numbered. I personally think they should have traded him for some prospects or some younger player.

As much as I admire and respect shortstop Jimmy Rollins, I think it’s time for him to move forward on him as well. After this season, he will have one year left on his contract. After next year or maybe even before that, it’s thank you for your service and the good things that you’ve done for the team.

While he is still one of the best defensive shortstops in the National League and maybe in baseball, at the plate he hasn’t hit above .280 since winning the National League Most Valuable Player Award in 2007.

Rollins hasn’t been the most disciplined hitter, which is surprising for a veteran ball player of his stature. He doesn’t work the count and often swings at bad pitches.

A couple weeks ago, the team placed the 34-year-old Rollins on waivers since he has a no-trade clause in his contract, but there were no takers.  Unless he has a huge resurgence next year, I don’t see the team signing him to an extension. Eventually, they’re going to have to look to their farm system to find a replacement.

Meanwhile, the Phillies are going to have see if 36-year-old Roy Halladay, whose contract is up at the end of this year, has anything left following his shoulder surgery.  He is currently on a rehab assignment with Phillies minor league affiliate in Clearwater, Fla.

In his first start, Halladay allowed three runs and struck out four. The velocity on his fastball was somewhere between 85 and 87-miles per hour. That’s not good enough for him to come back to the major league level.

The bottom-line now is that the Phillies are officially in rebuilding mode and for them to get better they will inevitably have to say adios to guys who helped build and shape the Phillies last run of success.

Just as Rollins, Utley, Ryan Howard and Cole Hamels became the foundation of 2007 to 2011, especially after the team unloaded guys like Jim Thome and Bobby Abreu, a new crop of kids will come in and hopefully achieve what those guys did.

 

Mid-Season Report: Phils Believe They Can Contend in Second Half

14 Jul
Phillies need a centerfielder  to replace Ben Revere, who broke his right foot during Saturday's game against the Chicago White Sox. Photo by Webster Riddick.

Phillies need a centerfielder to replace Ben Revere, who broke his right foot during Saturday’s game against the Chicago White Sox. Photo by Webster Riddick.

By Chris Murray

For the Chris Murray Report

PHILADELPHIA—In spite of injuries to key players like Roy Halladay, Ryan Howard and now centerfielder Ben Revere who is on the 15-day disabled list because of a broken right foot, the Phillies (48-48) believe they can make a run in the second half of the season.

“If you come to the ball park and you got 25 guys and the biggest part of them want to play and they’re concentrating on playing the game right way and getting after it, you’d be surprised at what you can do,” said Phillies manager Charlie Manuel.

Perhaps an even more daunting issue for the Phillies is whether they can be consistent enough to get beyond the .500 mark, something they weren’t able to do during the first half of the season.

“Obviously, You need to have some luck, but things are starting to bounce our way,” said Phillies second baseman Chase Utley.

Sunday’s 4-3 win over the Chicago White Sox put the Phillies at .500 mark for the first time since June 7. They have won eight of their last 12 and have won their last four series coming into the All-Star Break.  They are in third place, six and a half games behind the first place Atlanta Braves in the National League East.

“What’s meaningful is that we’re not out of the race,” said Phillies shortstop Jimmy Rollins. “We have 60-something games left and that’s going to determine the season. It’s going to come down to the last week of the season and hopefully we’re popping bottles.”

Phillies general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. likes where the Phillies are at this point of the season. At the very least, they are within striking distance.

“It’s pretty exciting actually for us to have gotten ourselves back into race and play a little bit better baseball,” Amaro said.  “Ben Revere has given us a lift, Michael Young has come up with some game-winning base hits for us.  (John) Lannan has pitched great. Delmon Young has come up with some big hits for us.”

Manuel said he’s still trying figure out how good his team can be even with all the injuries that the team has had this season.

“We’re still playing to see how good we really are,” Manuel said. “That’s how I look at it.”

On offense, the biggest stars on the Phillies have been Domonic Brown who leads the team in home runs with 23 and runs batted in with 65. With Howard suffering from a sore left knee throughout much of the season, Brown became the Phillies main source of power.

“He’s picked us up and he’s been getting his hits and he’s hit a lot of balls hard,” Manuel said. “He’s been consistent. He’s been out here and everyday and he’s been healthy. He’s developed into a heck of a player.”

Because of his outstanding performance in the first half, Brown is headed to his first All-Star game. A tremendous honor considering how fans and more than a few sports media people were calling for the team to trade him.

“I always set my goals and this definitely was one of them,” Brown said. “I’m just trying to keep moving forward and keep improving everyday.”

Before Revere hurt his foot on a foul ball in the 10th inning of the first game of Saturday’s doubleheader, he was hitting the ball well and establishing himself as a pure leadoff hitter.

After batting .200 for the first month of the season, Revere has been on a tear.  Since May 1, he has batted 347. His current batting average is .305.  Before being placed on the disabled list, Revere had hit safely in 14 out of his last 15 games including 10 games.

“He was our hottest hitter,” said Phillies manager Charlie Manuel. “He and Jimmy Rollins are our speed. He gave us a chance to play little ball at times. He was very important to our lineup and it’s a big blow.”

One thing likely to happen with Revere out is that Rollins might be moved back to the leadoff spot. Rollins said that he doesn’t care either or way, but if he is hitting at the No. 1 spot in the line he certainly help his team.

“Obviously if I’m up there and I can score on a lot of balls that some guys can’t,” Rollins said.  “That will help, but I really don’t care.”

With Halladay on the DL, the Phillies have had surprisingly decent starting pitching. Cliff Lee is having an All-Star year with a 10-3 record and a 2.86 ERA.  Jonathan Pettibone has secured a spot in the rotation in Halladay’s absence compiling a 5-3 record with a 3.89 ERA. John Lannen (2-3) has also been a big contributor in the Phillies rotation. Kyle Kcndrick (8-6, 3.86 ERA) has also been a consistent element among the starters.

After a horrendous start to the season, lefthander Cole Hamels in his last three outings is starting to find his groove.  In Sunday’s win over the Chicago White Sox, Hamels pitched eight and allowed two runs on eight hits, but get the decision.

“Hopefully, he’s gotten through his struggles and he is on a roll. That’s big for us. That’s real big for us,” Manuel said. “The last three games, I’m pleased with it. He’s definitely been very good the last two games. He’s had all the pitches and his command has been good.”

While the bullpen has pitched well in the series against the White Sox, it has struggled throughout much of the first half of the season. It ranks at the bottom of the National League in earned run average. Finding a good reliever at the July 31st- trade-deadline is priority for Amaro.

“We’ve got to pitch. If we don’t pitch well we don’t have a shot,” Amaro said.

Phillies Overcome Miscues to Win Series over Washington

12 Jul

By Chris Murray

For the Chris Murray Report

Kyle Kendrick had seven strong innings in win over Washington. Photo by Webster Riddick.

Kyle Kendrick had seven strong innings in win over Washington. Photo by Webster Riddick.

PHILADELPHIA—On nights when the Phillies commit more than one error, it usually results in a win for the other team.

Thursday night, the Phillies committed four errors, but they somehow figured out a way to overcome their miscues and score enough runs to come away with a 3-1 win over the Washington Nationals in front of 40, 086 fans  at Citizen’s Bank Park

For the Phillies (46-47), it was their third straight series win as they took three out of four games from the second-place Nationals (47-45). The Phils are one game below that elusive .500 mark once again.

“We’re able to win some games,” said Phillies manager Charlie Manuel. “Right now, we’re having a good homestand. We’ve got Chicago (White Sox) coming in. We’ve got three games before the (All-Star) break. Our main priority is to win tomorrow’s game. “

Starting pitcher Kyle Kendrick (8-6) had a strong performance on the mound. In seven innings, he allowed just one on five hits with two strikeouts and just one walk.  Manuel said Kendrick did a good job of fighting his way out of some rough spots.

“I thought he really had to battle because we made some mistakes, there was some sloppy play and he was the guy that got us of out of some jams,” Manuel said.  “He made pitches when he had to. He did a super job.”

Somewhere sandwiched between some of the gaffes in the field, there was an outstanding defensive play in the first inning that helped Kendrick and prevented Washington from taking an early lead.

Nationals rightfielder Jayson Werth poked a two-out single to left. Bryce Harper tried to score from second base but was gunned down at home plate by Phillies left fielder Domonic Brown.

“It was huge,” said Kendrick. “Obviously in the first inning, we didn’t want to get down there. He made a great throw. It could have been a big game-changer for sure. …It was big.”

Every time the Phillies committed an error or there was a wild pitch, Kendrick would get out of it with a double play. In the first, a dropped fly ball Chase Utley, who committed three errors, was followed up by an outstanding throw to get Harper out at the plate.

A two errors by Utley in the fourth put Werth on third base with two outs. Kendrick got second baseman Anthony Rendon to fly out to right to end the threat.

In the fifth, a throwing error by third baseman Michael Young allowed Nats catcher Kurt Suzuki enabled him to reach second. But the Phillies survived that inning because Ruiz fielded Jordan Zimmerman’s bunt attempt and threw out Suzuki at third.

Kendrick got Denard Span to hit into an inning-ending double play that went from Ruf, who stepped on the bag at first get Span and then threw to Rollins covering second to get Jordan Zimmerman.

With the Nationals All-Star pitcher Jordan Zimmerman (12-4) on the mound, the Phillies were going to have to figure out ways to get some runs and they did just that. The Phillies got eight hits off Zimmerman and scored two runs. The Nats best pitcher had six strikeouts.

“It was good pitching on both sides,” Manuel said. “Zimmerman was good. He was real good. Kendrick was right there with him and rose to the occasion. Zimmerman did a good job. We were to score on him.”

The Phillies broke open a scoreless game in their half of the fifth inning and took a 1-0 lead on RBI single by center fielder Ben Revere that drove home Ruiz who reached on an infield and advanced to second on a sacrifice bunt by Kendrick.

Washington evened the game in the top of the sixth inning on a sacrifice fly by Nationals third baseman Ryan Zimmerman that drove home Harper, who reached on a one-out triple to right.

The Phillies took the lead for good in their have of the seventh inning.  First baseman Darin Ruf doubled to center. He was replaced at second John McDonald, who scored the go-ahead run on a 0-2 pinch-hit double to right center by Kevin Frandson.

“It was just choke and poke right there,” Frandsen said. “Seriously. I’m not a big strikeout guy. I was just going to put in play. You never know you put a ball in play, good things happen.”

The Phillies bullpen tandem of Antonio Bastardo and Jonathan Papelbon kept the Nationals hitless and scoreless in the eighth and ninth innings. Papelbon got his 20th save of the year.

 

Getting His Groove Back: Cole Hamels leads Phillies Past Washington

10 Jul

By Chris Murray

For the Chris Murray Report

Cole Hamels had a solid performance against Washington Tuesday night. Photo by Webster Riddick.

Cole Hamels had a solid performance against Washington Tuesday night. Photo by Webster Riddick.

PHILADELPHIA—Now that Cole Hamels has won his last two starts, is it now safe to say that the Phillies lefthander has his mojo back?

If you’re looking for proof of that, all you need to do is look at how Hamels pitched his way out of a bases-loaded jam in the top of the eighth against the Washington Nationals.

First, Hamels struck out Nats third baseman Ryan Zimmerman swinging at a 93-mile an hour fast-ball.  After manager Charlie Manuel visited him on the mound, Hamels then retired the dangerous Jayson Werth on a long flyball to center to end the Washington threat in the eighth.

“I just said, ‘I’m not here to take you out, I just came out here to look at you’,” Manuel said. “I said, ‘you got him and he smiled and said, ‘I got him.’”  …It was a big time battle. That’s what baseball is all about. Werth came close, but no cigar.”

In eight innings of work, Hamels allowed just one run on six hits with four strikeouts and the Phillies came away with a 4-2 win over the Washington Nationals in front of 33, 502 fans at Citizen’s Bank Park.

“What I was able to do early on was to get the quick outs,” said Hamels, who threw 110 pitches. “I know it’s hot, but I was still able to maintain the energy and intensity level. That was the most exciting eighth inning I have had in a long time, especially with it not being a sell-out, it seemed like 60,000 fans. That was awesome to see that from the fans. It definitely brought the energy back.”

Considering how Hamels has struggled in 11 losses this season, getting two straight solid performances from him is like manna from heaven for a Phillies team trying to scrap their way back into the pennant race.

“Stuff-wise he’s been there the whole time,” said third baseman Michael Young, who drove in a pair of runs with an RBI-double in the sixth. “It’s a matter of just letting the game come to him. We know that in time, Cole is going to be one of the best pitchers in the league. It’s just who he is. It would be nice to have Cole and Cliff (Lee), those two guys at the top of our rotation to set us up.”

It was the Phillies third straight win and their fourth in their last five games. The Phils (45-46) moved to within one game of .500.  Antonio Bastardo got the save for the Phillies, allowing one hit, one run and a walk.

Getting beyond the .500 mark has been a challenge for the Phillies all year. But Young said the Phillies have to focus on winning the next game and instead of thinking about going on a “hot streak.”

“We’re putting too much on our plate. We’re thinking about a game that is maybe a week and a half away instead of bearing down on the one in front of us, especially when we’re playing a good club,” Young said.

As well as Hamels pitched against the Nationals, the Phillies offense scored enough runs to support his solid effort.

After the Nationals had taken a 1-0 lead on a solo home run by Werth in the second inning, the Phillies tied the game in the fourth on a RBI single by Domonic Brown that scored Chase Utley who reached on a two-out double.

The Phillies broke the game open in the sixth.  After singles by Ben Revere and Jimmy Rollins, Utley hit a ground ball to first baseman Adam LaRoche who tried to cut Rollins down at second. But the ball got ball got past shortstop Ian Desmond and into center field enabling Revere to score from second.

Young’s double scored Rollins and Utley to give the Phillies a 4-1 lead. The Nationals scored a run in the ninth on an RBI double by pinch-hitter Wilson Ramos that scored Anthony Rendon.

Phillies Look to Move Forward With Ryan Howard Out of the Lineup

9 Jul

Howard Will Miss 6-8 Weeks Because of a Torn Meniscus in His Left Knee

By Chris Murray

Ryan Howard will be having surgery to repair a torn meniscus in his left knee. Photo by Webster Riddick

Ryan Howard will be having surgery to repair a torn meniscus in his left knee. Photo by Webster Riddick

For the Chris Murray Report and the Philadelphia Sunday Sun

If  Phillies fans can find any silver lining to the news that slugging first baseman Ryan Howard will be getting surgery to repair the torn meniscus in his left knee is that he and possibly Roy Halladay may  be available by sometime around  late August or September for the Phillies to make a late run for a division title or a playoff berth.

Ah, but that’s the rub. Will the Phillies be in the pennant race by the time Howard or Halladay are healthy enough to return to the Phillies lineup? Will Howard or Halladay be 100 percent and back their old selves even if they are in contention?  If the Phils aren’t in the race,  Howard and Halladay should probably just shut it down until next year.

Considering how they struggled last season when Howard was out of the lineup, getting back into the pennant chase is going to be a tall order for the Phillies. Even with him struggling with a sore knee, Howard still drove in 43 runs and hit 11 home runs. He had one 10-game stretch back in June where he batted .400. In his last game on Friday, July 5 against the Atlanta Braves, he went 1-for-4 with a tape measure home run. He will be out for six to eight weeks.

“That’s a big blow,” said Phillies manager Charlie Manuel. “It’s different with him not in there. His presence means something to us. He’s still a threat he’s got (43) RBI. We need Ryan in our lineup. At the same time, we’ve got to keep playing. We’ve got guys that can definitely perform better and help us win some games.

With a healthy mix of veterans and young players in the lineup, the Phillies certainly have the tools to make a go of it without the “Big Piece” in the lineup. One thing that has kept the Phils within reasonable striking distance of the Braves has been the sudden success of All-Star leftfielder Domonic Brown, who has had a whale of a first half of the season.

Coming into Monday’s game against the Nationals, Brown was batting .281 with 23 home runs and 62 runs batted in. He had an incredible month of May in which he hit .303 with home runs, 25 runs batted in, four doubles and a triple. He was named the National League Player of the Month after being named National League Player of the Week twice.

“He’s hit a lot of balls harder and he’s been consistent,” Manuel said. “He’s been healthy and he’s developed into a heck of a player.”

Centerfielder Ben Rivera has also been swinging a hot bat lately. He is hitting .337 (68-for-202) with nine doubles, two triples,  15 stolen bases, 12 runs batted  and 12 walks since May 1. In Monday’s 3-2 win over Washington, Rivera was 3-for-5 including a double with two runs scored and a stolen base. He moved his batting average up to .300 for the first time this season after hitting .200 in April.

With the win over the Nationals, the Phillies have won three of their four games on a homestand that the team is saying is the more important of the year in determining the course of the season.

But where the Phillies have struggled this season is that they have been inconsistent. One night they will hit the ball well or good get a good outing from a starting pitcher only to have the bullpen blow a lead or let deficit grow so large that the game is out of reach. There have been nights where the offense has been absent or the starting pitching is missing.

In early June, the Phillies had a five-game winning streak that pushed them over .500 for the first time this season only to go on a five-game losing streak and fall back under .500 again.

In Monday’s 3-2 win over the Nationals, lefthander John Lannan went eight innings and allowed just four hit with four strikeouts. Closer Jonathan Papelbon got the save but gave up two runs on two hits in the process. It came perilously close to being a blown save.

With Howard out of the lineup, Brown said he expects his teammates to do their part and contribute to fill the void of Howard’s absence in the Phillies lineup.

“We’re looking for guys to step, whoever that might be,” Brown said. “Ben Revere had another great night. John Lannan pitched his butt off we just have to keep doing the little things, especially with Howard out of the lineup.”

Without their best slugger in the lineup, the Phillies will get a good look at Darin Ruf, who was recently called up from Triple-A Lehigh Valley. So far, he is batting .429 (3-for-7) in his first two games with the big league club. Manuel said there will be a lot of young players that will get a chance to play.

“I think it’s give us chance to put some guys out there and to see them,” Manuel said. “They’re going to get a chance like Ruf and those guys. As far as our line up goes, we’re going to get to see if different. We just got to keep playing like I say all the time. We gotta stay with it, grind it out. “