Well, the Phillies are starting 2013 the same way they ended 2012: trailing the Nationals in the National League East. Bryce Harper hit two home runs to lead Washington to a 2-0 win over the Marlins in afternoon play on this Opening Day. That being said, the Phillies are still undefeated, and they'll try to keep it that way tonight in their opening against Tim Hudson in Atlanta.
"I've always thought it's very important that you have a good record in your division," Charlie Manuel said. "I think that helps. At the same time, over 162 games, we've got to play hard every day and if we play the best baseball we'll win. Just because sometimes teams think they have the most talent, that doesn't mean they are going to win. It's a long season and there's a lot of things that come into play. You've got to stay healthy, but most of all, you've got to play the best baseball."
More from the manager, who was rocking new gray-and-red New Balance jogging shoes for his pre-game chat.
1) Domonic Brown is starting in left field and John Mayberry Jr. in right. Brown played both left and right, his natural position, during spring training, but the Phillies seem intent on using Delmon Young in right field once he returns from the disabled list at some point in the next month or so. Mayberry has a couple of home runs and four walks against two strikeouts in 13 at bats against Hudson, which is why Charlie Manuel went with the righty-on-righty matchup instead of using the lefty Nix.
2) One benefit of starting Mayberry is the presence of a left-handed power bat on the bench. Aside from Nix, the Phillies bench features two utility players (right-handed Kevin Frandsen, whose status is questionable as he continues to recover from being hit in the rise with a pitch, and Freddy Galvis), a right-handed hitting back-up catcher in Humberto Quintero, and a left-handed Rule 5 pick in Ender Inciarte. The bench is an under-the-radar issue for this team. Inciarte is 22 years old and has never played about Class A in the minors, where he has five career home runs and a .367 slugging percentage in 1,906 plate appearances.
"Nix is our left-handed hitter off the bench," Manuel said. "That entered my mind, but I basically play Mayberry because I remember him playing against Hudson and how he's done."
Last year, Galvis was much more productive as a right-handed hitter, posting a .267/.302/.433 line in 63 plate appearances compared with a .208/.231/.331 line in 137 plate appearances as a lefty. He had a solid spring from the left side of the plate, hitting three home runs, four doubles, and two triples in 57 at bats. Then again, he showed decent power from the left side last spring (eight extra base hits in 60 at bats) and that did not carry over into the regular season.
Asked who his top left-handed option is on days that Nix starts and Manuel fingered Galvis. It's unclear what Inciarte's role will be until Delmon Young returns from the DL and forces a roster decision.
3) As you have probably read by now, Jimmy Rollins is hitting second and Ben Revere is leading off. That does not come as a huge surprise since Manuel used that lineup throughout the last couple of weeks of spring training. Manuel was noncommittal about how permanent the new top of the order is.
"We'll see how long I give it," Manuel said. "I come to the ballpark to win. I don't have to put a time on it or nothing. I can't tell you if it's going to be five days, 10 days, two days -- we'll see. I just felt like that's what I wanted to see. That's how I wanted to put it together. I look at Jimmy against righties, he hooks the hole good. If Ben gets on, Jimmy is definitely capable of hitting balls to the right side of the diamond, getting him over, things like that. Ben's more of a spray hitter. He hits more to the left side of the diamond than Jimmy. There's a lot of things that go into play there."
Over the offseason, Manuel said that Revere would have to convince him to make a change at the top of his order. Revere apparently did that this spring.
"He's strong than I thought he was," Manuel said. "He takes a more aggressive hack than I thought he would. He puts the fat part of the bat on the ball good."
4) One of the big story lines in Atlanta is the health of lefty relievers Jonny Venters, who is scheduled to see renowned specialist Dr. James Andrews today after feeling tightness in his elbow. Venters has faced the Phillies in 31 games over the last three seasons, striking out 27 and walking 11 without allowing a home run in 28 2/3 innings. He has a 3.14 career ERA against the Phillies. The Braves still have two tough lefties in the bullpen. Eric O'Flaherty is well known to the Phillies, but 23-year-old Luis Avilan had a solid rookie season last year, holding lefties to two extra base hits with 18 strikeouts and five walks in 58 plate appearances. Righties didn't fare much better, hitting .231/.277/.282. The Braves appear set to use O'Flaherty, who posted a 1.73 ERA, 7.2 K/9, 3.0 BB/9 and 0.5 HR/9 in 57 1/3 innings last year, as their setup man in front of Craig Kimbrel. But they also have former Angels closer Jordan Walden, whom they acquired in exchange for starter Tommy Hanson over the offseason. Walden posted a 3.46 ERA, 11.1 K/9, 4.2 BB/9 and 0.7 HR/9 in 39 innings last season. Joining Walden, Kimbrel, O'Flaherty and Avilan are righties Cory Gearrin (1.80 ERA, 9.0 K/9, 2.3 BB/9, 0.5 HR/9 in 20 innings last year) and Cristhian Martinez (3.91 ERA, 7.9 K/0, 2.3 BB/9, 0.7 HR/9 in 73 2/3 innings in 2013).
5) The Phillies have an eighth/ninth inning combo that is as good as any in the majors. But the guys in front of that combination have plenty to prove. Lefty Antonio Bastardo was up and down last season. He's third on the depth chart behind Jonathan Papelbon and Mike Adams. The biggest spotlight is on righties Phillippe Aumont and Chad Durbin, since they are in line to be called on to face right-handed batters in big situations.
6) Manuel is clearly thrilled to have Chase Utley and Ryan Howard hitting at No. 3 and No. 4 after missing them for the first half of last season. Last year's lineup on Opening Day went Shane Victorino-Placido Polanco-Jimmy Rollins-Hunter Pence-Ty Wigginton-John Mayberry Jr.-Carlos Ruiz-Freddy Galvis.
- Ben Revere
- Jimmy Rollins
- Chase Utley
- Ryan Howard
- Michael Young
- Domonic Brown
- John Mayberry Jr.
- Erik Kratz
"I liked everything about our camp," Manuel said. "I liked the work we did. We did quality work. We worked on things that we wanted to. Hopefully when the season starts tonight, hopefully we'll definitely improve on those things. We've got some different players of course and we've got Utley and Howard healthy. We have a lot better lineup than we had last year. But as far as spring training goes, everything went real good. "
Keep in mind the Phillies are missing their top hitter from a year ago in Carlos Ruiz, who will miss the first 25 games due to suspension. And the Phillies think that Delmon Young will prove to be a good acquisition. Once those two players are back in the fold, the lineup could change dramatically. Ruiz spent much of last season hitting in the middle of the order.
"We're going to score more runs than we did last year," Manuel said. "If Delmon Young hits like they say he does and plays like he can, we should score a lot more runs."
7) The Braves have a lot of potential in their lineup. At lead off is young short stop Andrelton Simmons, followed by lefty Jason Heyward, righty Justin Upton, lefty Freddie Freeman, righty B.J. Upton, and righty Dan Uggla, all of whom have averaged at least 20 home runs a season over the last four years. The lineup should get even better in late April or May, which is the lastest timetable for the return of catcher Brian McCann, who is recovering from shoulder surgery. That would give the Braves six players who average 20 home runs per season. Only two National League teams have ever finished a season with six players at 20 or more home runs. The last to do it was the Braves in 2003. The Phillies had five players do it in 2007 and 2009.
"They've got power and speed," Manuel said. "On certain days they are going to score a lot of runs. Definitely, they've got speed, they've got tremendous defense in the outfield. They have guys who can really run the ball down. They have a big time bullpen. They have one of the better closers you'll ever see."
When you listened to Manuel talk about the Braves lineup, he sounded a lot like he did from 2007-09 during the prime of the Phillies' power-packed lineup.
"They've got some strikeout guys, but at the same time too," Manuel said. "I'd say good pitchers might give them some problems, but guys who are mediocre or finesse pitchers, they might score a lot of runs."
You could argue that one big difference between the Phillies of 2007-09 is the lack of a cleanup hitter with the power that Ryan Howard had, especially when McCann is not in the lineup.
But Manuel pointed to Braves first baseman Freddie Freeman, who has hit 44 home runs over the last two seasons while posting a .271/.343/.452 line. Freeman was just 22 years old last season, the same age Howard was in his first full season in the minors, when he hit 19 home runs at Class A Lakewood. Howard hit 23 home runs at Clearwater at the age of 23 and 46 at Reading and Scranton/Wilkes Barre at the age of 24.
"They've got Freeman, and Freeman's a high average hitter. He hits in the 20s in home runs and he's capable of 40," Manuel said. "It's just a matter of time. When they get McCann back, they'll really have some wallop. They've got a good team."