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

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.

Getting His Groove Back: Cole Hamels leads Phillies Past Washington

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.

At the Cross Roads: Can the Phillies Contend in 2013 or Are They Done?

By Chris Murray

For the Chris Murray Report and the Philadelphia Sunday Sun

If the Phillies are still below .500 by the july 31st trade deadline, will general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. blow the team up and start all over?

If the Phillies are still below .500 by the July 31st trade deadline, will general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. blow the team up and start all over?

PHILADELPHIA—When a team has a string of bad losses, it can either be the springboard for something great or the catalyst that sends the team into the abyss.

Earlier this week, the Phillies had two devastating losses that have fans thinking they may have hit rock bottom.

Let’s face it. When you get your rear-end handed to you in an 8-0 shutout loss to a New York Mets team that’s real close to a Triple ‘’A” club, you know there’s something wrong.

But while that loss was bad, it was nothing compared to Monday’s loss to the San Diego Padres in extra innings.

The Phils carried a 3-0 lead into the ninth inning.  Starting pitcher Cliff Lee had pitched eight shutout innings. But after throwing 109 pitches, Lee allowed hits including a double to the first two men faced.

Manager Charlie Manuel decided he had seen enough and brought in a struggling Jonathan Papelbon into the game to close it out. Papelbon gave up three in the ninth to allow the Padres to tie the game.

In the bottom of the 10th inning, Justin De Fratus retired the first guy he faced, but then walked two and hit another to load the bases. San Diego’s Kyle Blanks, the guy who drove the two runs to put the Padres on the board in the ninth, got the game-winning walk-off RBI single.

It was one of those horrific losses that leave fans and the players themselves saying, “WTF.”

The Phillies are 38-41 and are struggling to get out of the way of themselves. With the July 31st trade deadline a month way, you get the sinking feeling that the Phillies are about as good as they’re going to get.

That’s means (in my Jim Mora voice): Playoffs? You kidding me, Playoffs? The Phillies need to win a game, any game, another game.

If that’s the case, you might be saying good-bye to guys like Lee or perhaps Jimmy Rollins, who has a year left on his current contract, if the Phillies keep floundering where they are right now.

With the way the Phillies are playing right now, there is no reason to think they’re going to get any better. The offense has been erratic, the starting pitching has been inconsistent and the bullpen is just plain awful.

But then again, we’ve seen stranger things happen. (The optimistic portion of this column.)

The Phillies beat San Diego 6-2 the next day and they beat the Padres 7-5 in extra innings. The Phils are a two-game winning streak coming into this weekend’s four-game series against the Los Angeles Dodgers. Could this be the start of the turnaround?

They’ve got enough veterans and decent young players that the offense could suddenly get hot. If somehow Ryan Howard, Chase Utley, Rollins and Domonic Brown all got hot at the same time, the Phillies might run off a few wins.

What if Cole Hamels (2-12) somehow found his groove? Could Carlos Zambrano, who is going through an extended-spring training in Florida, be the answer if Roy Halladay doesn’t make it back?

A couple of the young arms in the bullpen might figure this big league thing out and start pitching well enough to hang on to leads in games.  Papelbon will probably recover from his current funk.

Before you go writing them off, just remember back on July 28, 2006 the day the Phillies traded Bobby Abreu to the Yankees. They were 49-56.

Then general manager Pat Gillick said it would be a long time before the Phillies would be contenders and pretty much wrote off 2007.  The Phillies finished the year with a 39-23 and missed the playoffs by three games, but that late run created the foundation for their run of five NL East titles, two National League pennants and a World Series crown.

However you want to look at it, the Phillies are at the crossroads of a season that could see them be good enough for the postseason or bad enough for general manager Ruben Amaro  Jr. to tear the whole thing down and start over.

Personally, I don’t think this team is good enough over the long haul to be as consistent as they should be. At the same time, they are capable enough to make liars out of us all.

Phillies Can’t Do Anything Right in Shutout Loss to the Reds

By Chris Murray

For the Chris Murray Report and the Philadelphia Sunday Sun

Kyle Kendrick struggled in 10-0 loss to Cincinnati. Photo by Webster Riddick.

Kyle Kendrick struggled in 10-0 loss to Cincinnati. Photo by Webster Riddick.

PHILADELPHIA—You knew at some point this season that Kyle Kendrick (4-2) was going to have one of those games where he would struggle and his team would not score enough runs.

In Saturday’s game against the Cincinnati Reds, Kendrick found himself in several jams and was actually lucky to just give up four runs on eight hits with four walks in six innings on the mound.

Kendrick’s lackluster performance was further complicated by another episode of “Disappearing Acts” by the Phillies offense and the Phillies bullpen which enabled the Reds to turn the game into a 10-0 laugher of a victory over the Phils in front of 41,817 fans at Citizen’s Bank Park.

“Kendrick got hurt by a three-run homer from (Ryan) Hanigan, but at the same time he battled, he kept us in the game and of course, we couldn’t score and the bullpen let the game get out of hand,” said Phillies manager Charlie Manuel.

Pitching deep into counts and allowing a man to reach base in every inning during his tenure on the mound, Kendrick was constantly pitching his way out of trouble. The Phillies were fortunate that the lead wasn’t larger.

Kendrick’s worst inning of the game would occur in the second inning. After giving up consecutive singles to third baseman Todd Frazier and leftfielder Donald Lutz, catcher Ryan Hanigan crushed a three-homerun to the leftfield seats.

“It seemed like the whole game my command wasn’t very good and I fell behind a lot,” Kendrick said. “It was one of those days where I had to battle. It was a tough day all around.”

With the silence of the Phillies bats that’s all the runs the Reds would need. Before departing the game in the sixth, Kendrick gave up a run-producing double to Reds shortstop Zack Cozart that scored Hanigan.

Of course, the Phillies bullpen—B.J. Rosenburg, Jeremy Horst and Phillipe Aumount helped the Reds put the game out of reach by allowing the Reds to score four runs in the eighth. Cincinnati also added a pair of runs in the ninth. The runs in the eighth were charged to Rosenburg. For the game, Phillies relievers gave up six runs on eight hits.

“I think it’s about getting ahead in the count kind of thing,” said Phillies reliever Chad Durbin. “I thought Rosenburg’s stuff was outstanding today. He just had some poor luck. Horst gives up one there instead of a double.

“Phillipe makes a wild pitch, but it’s a matter of getting ahead. All of them did other than Horst. They got behind and they battled back.  It’s a day in, day out thing. It’s having a three-run lead instead of being down three.”

Cincinnati starter Bronson Arroyo (4-4) pitched seven and two-thirds innings and allowed no runs on six hits with six strikeouts and two walks.

Meanwhile, the Phillies big hitters-Ryan Howard and Chase Utley went a combined 1-for-7. By the time Howard doubled to begin the bottom of the ninth, the outcome was already decided.

While Manuel has said the team is going to eventually come around on the offensive end. He also said the team has to keep their heads up and not let things snow-ball into something worse.

“We’re in that area where we start doubting ourselves instead of just keep firing,” Manuel said. “You stay aggressive and keep working on trying to get a good ball to hit. Not trying to overdo it, but just stay within yourself and do something. … Never get down play 27 outs.”

As silent as their bats were, Phillies hitters were equally a quiet during postgame interviews as none were available to speak to reporters after the game. When the media gathered to interview Phillies shortstop Jimmy Rollins walked away and told reporters:

“There’s nothing to talk about, write what you saw.”

What fans saw today was a team that couldn’t do anything right.

The Phillies May Have Something Left, But the End is Near

By Chris Murray

Cole Hamels has struggle in his eight starts this season. Photo by Webster Riddick.

Cole Hamels has struggle in his eight starts this season. Photo by Webster Riddick.

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.”

 

 

 

 

 

Hamels Woes Continue As Phillies Fall to the Cleveland Indians

By Chris Murray

For the Chris Murray Report

Cole Hamels is 1-6 on the season and the team is 1-8 in his nine starts.

Cole Hamels is 1-6 on the season and the team is 1-8 in his nine starts.

PHILADELPHIA—The Phillies 10-4 loss to the Cleveland Indians on Wednesday was not because of a solid pitching gone to waste because of a lack of hitting by the Phils.

That’s because the starting pitching by the ace of the Phillies rotation wasn’t good at all. By the top of the fifth inning, Cole Hamels had thrown 106 pitches, given up five runs on six hits including a pair homeruns. The Phillies (19-22) were in a 5-1 hole.

“What you saw was he was having a hard time putting the ball where he wanted to go,” said Phillies manager Charlie Manuel. “He thought he had some close pitches. Evidently, he didn’t get them, but at the same time, he was having trouble locating his pitches.”

Hamels record dropped to a dismal 1-6. The Phillies are 1-8 in the games that Hamels has started for the Phillies. In 2012, the Phillies were 21-10 in his 31 starts.

“I’m constantly making adjustments,” Hamels said. “I feel healthy, I feel strong. I’m able to throw all four pitches for strikes at times, but not able to do it nine out of 10 times, especially when you’re not able to do it off the bat to get ahead of a hitter, you’re not putting him in an uncomfortable at bat.

Throughout his time on the mound, Hamels did not have command of his pitches and threw a large amount of pitches. By the second inning, he had thrown 50 pitches. In his defense, some of Hamels balls came as the result of some questionable ball and strike calls by home plate umpire Dan Iassogna.

Hamels to his credit still put the onus of his bad performance on himself and what he didn’t do.

“You can get squeezed anytime, but when you’re going 3-2, it’s hard to call a strike when you throw ball after ball,” Hamels said. “In different situations 0-2, 1-2 not getting pitch here or there, you’re attacking the strike zone, you’re being aggressive.

“When you’re not attacking the strike zone and not being aggressive, you’re not going to get those calls. The outcome was my effort and my pitching ability.”

The Phillies would cut the deficit to 5-3 in their half of the fifth on a two-run double by Jimmy Rollins, but that’s about as close as they would come. Rollins was 2-for-4 with three runs batted in for the game.

The Phillies relief pitchers were equally as horrid as the starting pitcher, giving up five runs on five hits and a home run. The combination of Chad Durbin, Jeremy Horst, and Phillipe Aumont could not keep the Indians off the board after Hamels left the game. In the sixth inning, Cleveland pushed two more runs across the plate on a bases-loaded single Asdrubal Cabrera.

In the top of the eighth a three-run homer by second baseman Jason Kipnis effectively ended the competitive portion of the game and sent most of the 38, 440 fans at Citizen’s Bank Park to the exits. Kipnis was 3-for-4 with three runs batted in and two doubles.

“The object of the game when you bring somebody in if you’re behind or tied or even if you got a lead, you gotta hold the other team,” Manuel said. “If you’re going to give up runs, especially when we’re losing that makes it really tough, we got hold them. Can you do it all the time? No, but you have to do it a higher percentage.”

The Phillies have gone 5-4 in their last nine games. At times, they have looked like a team on the verge of going on a run to be a contender and push their record above .500. Just when it looks like things are about to look up for the Phils, they’ve come down to a crashing halt.

“It’s just a matter of continuing to get over that hump,” said Phillies first baseman Ryan Howard. “It’s winning like three games and it’s trying to limit that step back. You’re winning three games and you lose that’s cool. Being able to bounce right back, that’s the thing. We go into this off-day and try to bounce back on Friday.”

Notes—The Phillies signed former Chicago Cubs and Miami Marlins pitcher Carlos Zambrano to a minor league contract. The volatile 31-year-old right hander is 132-91 with a 3.66 earned run average in a career that spans over 12 years.

The team said Zambrano would have to go through an extended spring training down in Clearwater, Fla.and he would make a start with the Phillies Triple A affiliate at Lehigh Valley. It could take a up to a month or so for him to be ready with the big team. He could ask to be released if he’s not with the Phillies by July 1.

Rookie Shines in Debut as Phillies Edge the Pirates

By Chris Murray

Jonathon Pettibone didn't get the win against the Pirates, but strong enough to keep the Phillies in the game.

Jonathon Pettibone didn’t get the win against the Pirates, but strong enough to keep the Phillies in the game.

For the Chris Murray Report/Philadelphia Sunday Sun

PHILADELPHIA—Phillies rookie right-hander Jonathan Pettibone did not disgrace himself at all in his major league debut against the Pittsburgh Pirates with family in attendance.

In fact, he looked like a seasoned veteran and did everything he could on his end. He had six strikeouts with no walks while giving up two runs and in five and one-thirds innings.

On offense, Pettibone walked and scored a run.  It was a pretty good evening for a 22-year-old youngster making his first start in the majors.

In frigid temperatures more suited for Monday Night Football than the warm-weather game of baseball, the Phillies left a bunch of men on base and still somehow came away with a 3-2 win over the Pirates in front of 35, 385 cold fans at Citizen’s Bank Park.

“(Pettibone) did fine for his first time pitching in the big leads. He made some good pitches at times,” said Phillies manager Charlie Manuel, who managed Pettibone’s father Jay Pettibone in the minor leagues. “Early in the game, they hit some balls hard on him. He got them out when he had to, too.”

He did give up a pair of solo homeruns to Pirates third baseman Pedro Alvarez in the second inning and catcher Russell Martin in the fifth. Other than that, he pitched well enough to win. It was too bad he wound up with a no-decision.

“I didn’t want to pick around the strike zone,” Pettibone said. “I wanted to get ahead of guys and go after guys. That was my game plane. I just pitched to my strengths and went after these guys. Whatever happens, happens.”

What also helped Pettibone was some good plays in the field including a spectacular one-handed diving catch by rightfielder John Mayberry Jr. in the first inning when the Pirates had a man on second.

“That was great, it saved a run,” said Pettibone, who struggled in his first two starts at Triple-A Lehigh Valley. “Who knows what would have happened continuing from that inning. It was a big play.”

Even though the Phillies had guys reaching base, they could not get that one big hit to break open the game. The Phils scored their first two runs without getting a bat on the ball. They got their first run in the third inning on a wild pitch by Pirates starting pitcher A.J. Burnett that scored Pettibone.

The second came in the fourth inning when Burnett hit shortstop Jimmy Rollins with the pitch while the bases were loaded. In the sixth, Rollins would put the Phillies ahead on an RBI single to right field that scored Erik Kratz, who reached on a two-out walk.

“We’ve have to win one-run games,” Manuel said. “We’ll get good pitching like we did tonight, but we have to win games. We’ve had some low-(scoring) games and we hadn’t been able to win many of those games. That’s probably the different between having a winning record and being a couple of games below .500.”

The Pirates had one last chance to tie it in their half of the ninth when first baseman Garrett Jones smacked a one-out double to right. But Papelbon got second baseman Neil Walker to fly out to left and then struck out Alvarez to end the game.

After Pettibone left the mound in the sixth, the Phillies bullpen combination of Raul Valdes, who got the win; Antonio Bastardo, Mike Adams and Papelbon allowed just two hits in the final two and thirds innings.

 

 

 

 

Leading Off for the Phillies, Chase Utley?

By Chris Murray

Chase Utley has reached base safely in 16 of 18 games this season. Photo by Webster Riddick.

Chase Utley has reached base safely in 16 of 18 games this season. Photo by Webster Riddick.

For the Chris Murray Report

After a horrendous start in the lead-off spot for centerfielder Ben Revere, the Phillies have gone back to Jimmy Rollins in the lead-off role.

Revere, God bless him, was struggling at the spot and was not getting on base enough. So far this season, he has struck out (12) more than he’s walked (4). That’s not good for someone who supposed to set the table.  He’s batting .211, but was hitting below .200 in the lead-off spot before going 2-for-3 in Friday’s game against the St. Louis Cardinals. He was 0-for-3 with a strike out in Saturday’s game against the Cards.

On one level, Rollins going back to the lead-off spot is not a bad thing because J-Roll has often been the spark for the Phillies offense even though he hasn’t been your classic lead-off hitter over the years in terms of drawing walks and getting on base.

But I have an even better suggestion at the lead-off spot for the Phillies—Chase Utley

Here you have a guy who’s a pretty good judge of the strike zone and has a knack of getting on base. Utley is currently tied for the team lead in walks, he leads in runs scored, runs batted in, and total bases. He also has the highest career stolen-base percentage among active players at 89 percent.  In fact, he has been successful in 35 out his last 37 attempts to steal bases.

From 2005-2012, Utley has the highest on-base percentage (.383) among major league second baseman.

From the time he came off the disabled list on June 27, 2012 to the end of the year, Utley led the team in walks (43) and on-base percentage (.365).  He also reached base safely in 70-of-81 starts and was tied for the seventh in the National League for getting hit by pitches.

So far this season, Utley has reached base safely in 16-of-18 games this season.

When you look at those numbers, isn’t that what your lead-off guy is supposed to do? Utley has been the one guy on this team who can hit for both average and power.  He doesn’t mind taking a walk,  he can hit it out of the park and hit for extra bases.

I think Utley might work in the lead-off spot because I think he’s a good hitter who knows how to work the count to the point where he’s going to knock the stuffing out of the ball or he gets on base via the walk. He’s always had the ability to steal bases even though he doesn’t have the speed of guys like Rollins or even Revere.

Like Rollins, Utley is also a threat to knock the ball out of the park from at the top of the top of the order as well.

While the Phillies have good hitters like Rollins, third basemen Michael Young and of course Ryan Howard, what would the Phillies have to lose by putting Utley in the lead-off spot?

Rollins, with his speed and power, could bat at Utley’s spot and still have the ability to score and drive in runs. Once he gets on base, he can still be a threat to steal.

Like Rollins, Utley in the lead-off spot would bring some energy to the team, especially with the way he hustles and runs around the bases.  But unlike his teammate, Utley knows how to work the count and knows how to get on base by any means necessary.

If an ideal lead-off hitter is supposed to be good at drawing walks, stealing bases, scoring runs and hitting  for a high average—anywhere from .280 to about .300 and be that table setter,  I think you can make a case for Utley playing that role.

Utley does all the above-mentioned things to be a good lead-off while batting at the third spot while also having the power to go yard and produce runs.

I asked Charlie Manuel if he would ever consider putting Utley in that role and his answer was a definite, “no.”

“You know I don’t think so because he’s definitely one of our (RBI) guys,” Manuel said.

Oddly enough, Manuel, earlier this month, said the same thing when he was asked why he likes Rollins in the lead-off spot.

“I like Jimmy Rollins leading off basically for a couple of things,” Manuel said back on Mar. 30.  “One of them is the runs he produces in the lead-off hole. He’s knocking seventh, eighth and ninth hole hitters and that’s pretty big.

“How he does it? He hits triples, doubles and homers. That’s how he does it.”

Hmm, Couldn’t Utley do the same thing leading off?

Phillies Offense backs up Kendrick in Win Over the Mets

By Chris Murray

Brown's three-homer in Wednesday's win over the Mets sailed over the Budweiser sign into the second deck at Citizen's Bank Park. Photo by Webster Riddick.

Brown’s three-homer in Wednesday’s win over the Mets sailed over the Budweiser sign into the second deck at Citizen’s Bank Park. Photo by Webster Riddick.

For the Chris Murray and the Philadelphia Sunday Sun

If you’ve been crying the blues about the Phillies struggles this week—poor starts by Roy Halladay and Cole Hamels, remember that it’s only April and nine games into the season.

Phillies manager Charlie Manuel made it clear that he’s not as worried as some Phillies fans might be at this point in the season.

“So far is a big word,” Manuel said before the game. “You can be hitting .300 and then two days go 0-for-4 and then be hitting .220, .230 and .210. Time will take care of all of these things.”

After losing five of their first seven games, the Phillies (4-5) closed out the first homestand of the year by winning two straight including Wednesday’s 7-3 win over the New York Mets at Citizen’s Bank Park.

“It’s great to get that first series under our belt and just try to carry the momentum to Miami on this road trip,” said Phils first baseman Ryan Howard. “We’ve had a couple of situations where we’ve come up short in games. These last four or five games we’ve been going out there and just swinging.”

The Phillies will embark on a six-game road trip that will take them to Miami and Cincinnati. They will be back at the ball park in South Philly on April 18 when they start a three-game series against the St. Louis Cardinals.

“We definitely need  to play the Marlins and we have to win series and take it one game at a time,” Manuel said.

The Phillies got off to a hot start offensively in the first inning—they got a two-run homer from Chase Utley and a monstrous 3-run shot from Domonic Brown that went over the Budweiser sign and into second deck in right field to give them a 5-0 lead.

“I think we started to get good balls to hit and started swinging the bats good,” Manuel said. “I felt like out hitting picked up because we were leaving runners on base and things like that.  It was just a matter of time we started getting some hits with guys on.”

The Mets would get one back via the long ball on a solo shot by catcher John Buck in the second inning and another solo homer by Lucas Duda in the top of the fourth. The Mets leftfielder would get another solo home run in the eighth off Phils reliever Mike Adams.

Kyle Kendrick wasn’t necessarily the second coming of Cy Young and didn’t necessarily overwhelm Mets hitters.  He gave up solo home runs to catcher John Buck and leftfielder Lucas Duda.  He pitched six innings (105 pitches) and got six strike outs and allowed just two walk while pitching on a tight rope.

“It was important that he took us where we wanted to go,” Manuel said. “He pitched out of some jams. Tonight, he definitely did that tonight.”

But in the midst of his struggles, Kendrick managed to survive a 27-minute rain delay and pitch his way out of some tight jams after seeing his team jump out to a big lead. After Buck’s homer in the second, the Mets loaded the bases with one out.

Kendrick got out of it back striking out pitcher Jeremy Hefner and centerfielder Jordany Valdespin to get out of the inning.

“It’s always nice to get out of jams,” Kendrick said. “You try to minimize the damage and stay away from big innings.”

In the fifth inning, Kendrick gave up a single to Valdespin and walked second baseman David Murphy.  Then he struck out Mets third baseman David Wright for the first out of the inning. While pitching to first baseman Ike Davis, Kendrick uncorked a wild pitch that moved the runners to second and third.

Kendrick managed to get out of the inning thanks to the speed of centerfielder Ben Revere and the dumb base-running of Murphy.  Revere ran down a short fly ball by Davis and then tossed the ball to second to double up Murphy, who didn’t tag up and apparently thought the ball was going to drop.

“That was a big spot in the game,” Kendrick said. “I guess (Davis) thought Ben might not have gotten to it, but I was happy, happy, happy.”

Meanwhile, the offense added a couple of insurance runs in the bottom of the sixth thanks to a two-run homer by pinch hitter Laynce Nix.

 

Lee, Phillies Bats Power their Way Past the Mets

Ryan Howard hit his first home run of the year Tuesday in the Phillies win over the New York Mets. Photo by Webster Riddick

Ryan Howard hit his first home run of the year Tuesday in the Phillies win over the New York Mets. Photo by Webster Riddick.

RYAN HOWARD GETS FIRST HOME RUN OF YEAR, MICHAEL YOUNG IS ONE HIT SHORT OF  THE CYCLE.

By Chris Murray

For the Chris Murray Report and the Philadelphia Sunday Sun

Earlier this week, Charlie Manuel had talking about the need for his team to start putting every aspect of their game together to start winning on a consistent basis. That means solid pitching and hitting, something they haven’t had much of so far this season.

In the second game of their three-game series against the New York Mets, the Phillies finally got a good game from the guy on the mound and some firepower from their bats in their 8-3 win Tuesday night at Citizen’s Bank Park.

“I saw them hit the ball and they hit it real good,” Manuel said. “We were fortunate enough to get some runs early. It’s a matter of time that we’re going to have some good nights when we do knock them in and getting them on first is important and the most thing is knocking them and scoring runs.”

Starting pitcher Cliff Lee (2-0) has been the most consistent element of the Phillies starting rotation so far this season.  Tuesday night, the Phillies lefthander served up a gem by pitching eight and two-thirds innings, allowing just three runs (two earned) on eight hits. He struck out six and had zero walks.

“I was just throwing strikes and making them swing their way on base,” Lee said. “We were making plays, being aggressive and trying to staying away from hitter friendly counts. “

Lee even helped himself at the plate. He was 1-for-4 with a run batted in. Phillies third baseman Michael Young described him as a baseball player who happens to be a pitching.

“Cliff’s awesome. I’ve always liked to play behind Cliff,” Young said. “He loves to compete. He has a bad at-bat and he’s pissed. It’s fun to play with a guy like that.”

Said Lee: “Anytime you can do anything at the plate or any aspect of the game, If I can do anything to help the team in positive way, I feel good about it.”

When Lee was taken out of the game in the ninth, the fans, probably tired of the poor performances by the bullpen, booed Charlie Manuel while giving Lee a standing ovation.

“It was tough,” Manuel said. “I want Cliff to finish the game, but at the same time, I didn’t want him into no big inning where throws 25 or 30 pitches either. He wanted to stay in of course.”

Now in Manuel’s defense, Lee did throw 106 pitches up to that point and given how the rest of the pitching staff is going right now, the Phillies are not in position to risk any injuries.

Meanwhile, the middle of the Phillies lineup awakened from their slumber in a big way thank to the long ball. With the Phillies already leading 4-0 in the third, Ryan Howard and Young hit back to back homeruns. Later in the inning, rightfielder John Mayberry Jr. also hit a home run.

“For awhile we had trouble getting that big hit,” said Young, who was 3-for-4 and was a double short of the cycle. “We kept saying to ourselves as long as we keep getting out there. That’s the important thing. Eventually, we’ll start moving them in. Hopefully, this is the start of something good.”

The Phillies started the scoring in the bottom of the second by jumping out to a 4-0 on an RBI double by Mayberry that scored Young and Domonic Brown.  The Phils also got an RBI single from Lee and an RBI double from Jimmy Rollins.