His team has failed to win more than three games in a row this season. Two-thirds of the season-opening starting rotation is on the disabled list as is the starting catcher and setup man. The power-hitting first baseman has not hit for much power or much at all lately and is dealing with a sore left knee that has kept him out of the last two games. Middle relief is an oxymoron and the offense is often marked absent. The two biggest offseason additions in the outfield have contributed little.
Welcome to the world of Phillies general manager Ruben Amaro Jr., who fielded a series of questions about his struggling team Tuesday morning.
Can this team weather the injury storm better than it did a year ago?
Amaro: “Obviously we haven’t had the kind of production we were hoping for offensively, and if we were to lose Ryan (Howard) and (Carlos Ruiz) for an extended amount of time, it would be very tough on us. There are other people who can step up in both cases and keep us afloat, but I don’t anticipate Ryan’s injury being a long-term one. I think he’ll play today or tomorrow. But having (Ruiz) out close to a month is going to hurt us because I thought his swing was coming around. Hopefully (Erik) Kratz and (Humberto) Quintero can step up.”
So you don’t think Howard’s injury is too serious even though it’s to the same leg that he had the torn Achilles tendon?
Amaro: “I think we have to be concerned any time our guys have any issues, but I don’t think it’s something that is so daunting that we’re panicking about it. It’s something we have to be aware of and make sure he does his proper rehab to address it and make sure he’s OK. If there is a meniscus issue, it is repairable and there are some things he can do that can help alleviate some of the stuff he had.”
Can this offense turn things around?
Amaro: “I think it can. I don’t have a crystal ball that says it will and it hasn’t shown the consistency that would make you think it will. But there are reasons they have those numbers on the back of their baseball cards. I think when it’s all said and done, we will have more productive numbers than we do right now as a group. But it is concerning that we haven’t had more consistency at this stage of the season.”
At what point do you have to do some things to try to change the offense?
Amaro: “It’s not like we haven’t looked into ways to improve our club. Because of the nature of what’s happening across the league, you don’t see a whole lot of movement. I don’t think a lot of teams feel like they know what they have yet, so you’re not seeing anything more than waiver-wire claims.”
You get the buyer or seller question all the time lately, so where do you see things at this point?
Amaro: “Our job is to try to contend every year. Right now, I don’t think it’s unrealistic for us to still think we’re contending in this division. I think we have the talent to compete and contend in this division. We have not played as well as we expected to play or as well as I still expect us to play. There is still a lot of room for improvement and I still expect to see that from our players.”
Ben Revere and Delmon Young were your two big outfield additions in the offseason and neither has given the team much production. What’s the concern level there?
Amaro: “Ben has had a little bit of a slow start, but he has done some things better lately even though he had a rough night (Monday in Miami). I think Ben is a better player than we’ve seen so far. Delmon is a better player, too. They need to produce more, but Jimmy (Rollins), Chase (Utley), (Ruiz), Michael Young and Ryan need to produce more, too. They all need to produce more if we’re going to improve offensively. I’m happy with what Domonic Brown has been doing.”
How long can you stick with Revere and Delmon Young?
Amaro: “I don’t know, but at some point it does have to kick in. We’ll see how things continue to play out.”
Middle relief has been a big problem, too. Where does that rank among concerns?
Amaro: “Obviously we haven’t had consistency in the middle-relief corps, but it’s not our biggest problem. We’d like to be better there. We’re in the process right now of trying to improve it either externally or internally here in the short term.”
What’s your viewpoint of Jason Grilli, who you guys let leave for Pittsburgh, where he has become a dominating closer for the Pirates this season?
Amaro: “The Grilli situation … he had an out in his contract and a team came calling for him. We felt like we had other internal options and we decided to go with them. Give him credit. They gave him an opportunity in Pittsburgh and he’s taken the ball and done very well there with it.”
Are there any internal options to fix your offense right now?
Amaro: “I think there are a couple of them, but they are not necessarily at the right position to help us. Cesar Hernandez is swinging the bat well. (Darin) Ruf has done well, although he’s coming off a little bit of a slump lately. There are some other guys playing pretty well, too, and they’re all on our radar screen. But Cesar is not going to come up and play for Chase. Ruf has done OK, but he still needs work in the outfield. While he’s done OK offensively, I’m not sure he’s better than the options we have.”
Is Ruf the first option at first base behind Howard?
Amaro: “I would think so. He’s played first base about twice a week, so we know he can do that.”
Any concerns about the starting pitching depth?
Amaro: “That’s one of the reasons we signed (Carlos) Zambrano. (John) Lannan is coming back relatively soon and Ethan Martin is pitching pretty well (at Lehigh Valley). I know we’ve lost two starters, but I’ve been extraordinarily pleased with (Jonathan) Pettibone and Kyle Kendrick and I like the way Cliff (Lee) and Cole (Hamels) have pitched, too. The starting pitching, if we’re giving it a grade, would be a B-plus or A-minus for me.”
What’s the plan with Zambrano?
Amaro: “He pitches again (today) and we’ll try to get him stretched out before we get him into a game in the lower minors. Maybe in Clearwater first. We’ll see if he’s a viable option for us. At some point he’ll go to the upper levels once he gets stretched out. So far, so good with him.”