It was March 12 in Port Charlotte when I first noticed Charlie Manuel sounding anxious about some of his hitters. Minor injuries and the “World Baseball Thing,” as Charlie dismissively called it today, left many regulars short of the 65-70 Grapefruit League at-bats Manuel feels are needed to prepare for the season.
That day, Manuel was asked if his team’s loss bothered them. As he began his response, he seemed to realize that the answer was yes. “Actually, we've got to get our regular lineup out there soon,” he said.
The subject died for a while, but after the Phillies lost 3-1 to Boston and a wild Jon Lester today (their only run scored on a bases-loaded walk to Ryan Howard), Manuel returned to it at length. Here’s part of the monologue:
“We’re not playing good right now. We’re not knocking the runs in, we’re not hitting the ball good. I mean, we’ve got to do better. We’re still in the process of getting Utley and Feliz and Victorino and Rollins some at-bats. Victorino got behind when he went to the World Baseball thing, he got 19 at-bats or something….we’ve got Coste, we’ve got a whole lot of those guys (who are behind)…At the start of spring training, that was our goal, to get everybody at-bats to be ready to go when the season starts, and we’re running short with some of those guys. It takes you a while to get your timing and get in good playing condition….Am I concerned about it? I’ve been to spring training 40-some years, and I know this: you’ve got to have at-bats….There’s nothing we can do about it.”
Other comments were less family-friendly. As I wrote the other day---the season is approaching, and the mood around here is becoming more serious.
Joe Blanton was terrific today, allowing two runs on four hits in 6 1/3 innings. He walked one and struck out four. Blanton has pitched more consistently than anyone this spring, and both he and Manuel said he was ready for the season. He will probably start that Friday exhibition at Citizens Bank Park.
Cole Hamels will pitch tomorrow, though it could be in the major league or minor league game. As mentioned earlier, he long-tossed this morning before the game and looked fine. I wouldn’t read much into the major/minor league switcheroo, although Dubee did tell me that minor league games caused less stress on a pitcher’s arm—not as much competitive tension, I guess—so you CAN probably read that Hamels won’t be ready opening night, if this is where he is now. “I wouldn’t rule anything out when it comes to Cole Hamels,” Dubee said. But come on. Expect an official announcement on an opening night starter in the next few days.
Jack Taschner arrived today, and I’ll have a getting-to-know-the-new-lefty piece in tomorrow’s paper. He threw a bullpen session , and when I asked Dubee what he noticed about the new guy, he said: “That he was lefthanded.” Thanks, Dubes.
Sorry that I don’t have time to respond to the many emailers who enjoyed our recent digression into the founding brothers. I’ll just say this: thanks for the kind words, and as far as I’m concerned, the only way to cover sports is to connect it to the rest of the world. That’s what you can always expect from my coverage. Otherwise, the games are just...games (and we love them, but still). Not everyone agrees with that—and I’m sure I’ll hear from you—but judging from recent responses, most of you do.