The heat and humidty have broken here in Atlanta as the Phillies prepare to face Tim Hudson in an attempt to win this three-game series in Atlanta.
A half hour ago, Ruben Amaro Jr. briefed reporters on the lengthy list of injuries that have plagued the Phillies over the first couple months of the season. We'll run them down in order:
1) Chase Utley is hoping to play nine innings today at Class A Clearwater. It would be his first full game. Utley is clearly nearing a return, but Amaro would not go so far as to say that he will be back at some point during next week's homestand.
"Right now, two things need to happen," Amaro said. "He needs to get timing, he needs to get at-bats, he needs to get a good feel of seeing live pitching, and at the same time he needs to be honest with us and let us know that he is progressing. And as long as he is progressing, that is good stuff. We do not want to bring him to the big leagues if he doesn't feel comfortable physically to come to the big leagues. And we don't want to bring him to the big leagues until he's gotten enough at-bats to be prepared to play."
Keep in mind Utley did not play at all in spring training, so this is his first look at live pitching. That said, it won't take much for him to provide an offensive upgrade at second base. So if it gets to the point where, say, Utley is physically ready to play two games followed by a day off, Amaro said he might as well do it at the big-league level.
2) Domonic Brown is progressing in his return from a sprained thumb, but Amaro said that if the top prospect is not swinging a bat within the next couple of days, the team will likely give him an MRI just to make sure that there isn't something more nefarious going on inside the thumb. The injury comes at a tough time for Brown, who was playing very well at Triple-A Lehigh Valley after his return from thumb surgery (which the Phillies say isn't related to his current injury). Although Shane Victorino said today he doesn't expect to go on the disabled list after straining his hamstring, and Amaro seconded that opinion, Amaro also said that Victorino will continue to be evaluated. So if he did end up landing on the disabled list, there would be an opening for a guy like Brown. Except Brown is now hurt.
"It slows things down for him, because the whole point of him playing right now is to continue to develop, and any time he misses development time it's no good," Amaro said. "But that's part of the game, and you have to deal with it, just like we have our injuries up here. We have to just deal with it and move on and hopefully he gets back on the field in a short period of time and starts racking up at-bats and playing time."
Prior to the injury, the Phillies were impressed with Brown's performance.
"He's swinging the bat better," Amaro said. "He's swinging the bat good. He's going about his business very professionally. I had a nice talk with Sandberg about him and other guys there. He's doing OK. But again, he's a guy who needs reps, he needs to play. He hasn't played a lot in the last several months so we've got to get him some at-bats. We've got to get him playing. He needs playing time."
Victorino will not do any running today, only flexibility stuff. Michael Martinez is starting in center field, with John Mayberry Jr. playing right.
3) Jose Contreras is expected to make his first rehab outing at some point next week, although the Phillies do not know exactly when. It stands to reason that he could be back with the team by the end of their upcoming eight-game home stand. Scott Mathieson will likely be headed back to Lehigh Valley at that point. The Phillies won't have any tough decisions to make until Brad Lidge returns. On that front, Lidge is hoping to throw off a mound next week, his first work off a mound since he strained his rotator cuff in late-March. Lidge's target return has been sometime in June. If he ends up hitting that target, the Phillies will have to decide whether it is worth keeping a guy like Vance Worley in the bullpen, or if he is better off starting at Triple-A. Amaro said a couple weeks ago he thought it was best that Worley start at Triple-A. And he still sounded like he was leaning toward that mindset yesterday. But he also admitted that Worley has pitched well enough to prompt a re-evaluation of his future.
4) Roy Oswalt threw 35 pitches in a bullpen session today in Clearwater and is set to start against the Cardinals on Tuesday.
5) Amaro said back-up catcher Brian Schneider will likely take closer to a month to recover from a Grade 2 hamstring strain rather than the 15 days he is required to spend on the DL.
A couple other things. . .
While the Phillies probably will not have a tough decision to make on the pitching front until Lidge returns, they'll have to make a decision about who to part with whenever Utley returns. One thing to keep in mind is that Pete Orr has an option remaining, meaning the Phillies can send him to Triple-A Lehigh Valley without having to worry about another team picking him up.
Amaro was asked on a couple occasions about the Phillies' lack of production from the corner outfield spots. With Brown hurt right now, they don't appear to have a heck of a lot of options. And they've been winning games, so there is no need for a ton of urgency.
"Part of it is up to Charlie, and part of it is up to us talking about it," Amaro said. "I would like for us to have better production there. Right now we'll keep going with the guys we've got and hopefully they'll start producing at a more regular rate, but we have to evaluate every day."
We've made this point plenty of times over the last few months, but the Phillies made a calculated decision in the offseason to pour their resources into the pitching staff. Spending money in one area means not spending it in another. They chose to sign Cliff Lee instead of trying to make a play for a corner outfield bat. And thus far, it's hard to argue with the way things have turned out. They have been helped immensely by the contributions that their young pitchers have made in the bullpen, another area they did not address significantly this offseason.
"I think that was the whole point of us getting the pitching staff that we have, that can cover some of the deficiencies that we may have," Amaro said. "And, frankly, with all the injuries we've had, I think our bullpen's done OK. I mean, we've got guys all over the place as far as roles are concerned. That's a tough task for Charlie and Doobs. It's not easy to manage that, and by and large, those guys have done OK. We've got young kids in the bullpen, kids who have never been in these types of roles and situations where we're counting on them to perform."
John Mayberry Jr. is starting over Ben Francisco today in right field.
Here's today's line-up:
1. Jimmy Rollins SS
2. Michael Martinez CF
3. Placido Polanco 3B
4. Ryan Howard 1B
5. Raul Ibanez LF
6. John Mayberry Jr. RF
7. Pete Orr 2B
8. Carlos Ruiz C
9. Roy Halladay RHP
Download our NEW iPhone/Android app for easy access to all of our Phillies coverage, plus app-exclusive videos and analysis. Get it here.