Friday, February 12, 2016

What do you want out of final 44 games?

MILWAUKEE — Two days after the Phillies traded away two-thirds of their outfield and officially raised the white flag on 2012, Ryan Howard pinch-hit for Domonic Brown in the ninth inning of an eventual loss.

What do you want out of final 44 games?

(Yong Kim/Staff Photographer)
(Yong Kim/Staff Photographer)

MILWAUKEE — Two days after the Phillies traded away two-thirds of their outfield and officially raised the white flag on 2012, Ryan Howard pinch-hit for Domonic Brown in the ninth inning of an eventual loss.

The tying run was at the plate, Brown's season was three games old, and fans grumbled. Why, some asked, is Charlie Manuel forcing Brown — a player the Phillies must learn about — watch this crucial situation from the bench?

Howard took strike three. The game ended, marking the Phillies' 58th defeat of the season.

So here we are, after loss No. 64, and a very similar situation presented itself. Yet the immediate reaction was the complete opposite. It has me confused.

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Cliff Lee threw 111 pitches Thursday and most of them were quite good. A few, three of them to be exact, left the ballpark. Still, he pitched well enough to win, and was poised to do just that in the eighth inning until pitch No. 111 manifested a bouncer that Kevin Frandsen threw away.

Up came Ryan Braun, who had already dinged Lee for two long balls. Manuel emerged from the dugout.

"He had gone that far and pitched well," Manuel said. "I wanted him to leave on a good note. I wanted him to win the game. It didn't turn out that way."

Even Lee, who always wants to remain, agreed. "Considering Braun was 2 for 3 with two home runs [off me]," he said, "it actually made some sense."

Manuel signaled for a righty, Josh Lindblom. The Phillies traded Shane Victorino to Los Angeles and the centerpiece of the return was Lindblom, a 25-year-old middle reliever with decent numbers. This season of bullpen roulette had the Phillies desperate to add depth. Lindblom, they hope, is that guy.

But they do not yet know if he is that guy.

"When we first got him, we wanted him to be able to pitch in the seventh in the eighth innings," Manuel said. "We like his arm. We have to give him a chance to pitch. I look at it that way."

Hence, the tryout. This was the perfect scenario. The starting pitcher had done well, but his pitch count was rising and he faced an unfavorable matchup. The Phillies will need a dependable righty in 2013 to record key outs in the eighth inning. What better than to simulate it now, in a meaningless game during a lost season?

Lindblom, of course, failed Thursday. He has allowed 11 home runs this season, more than any National League reliever, and it is a disturbing statistic. In seven games with the Phillies, Lindblom has permitted six earned runs in five innings. He admitted to "nibbling" Thursday, something he said is characteristic of many of his outings with his new team.

The immediate reaction from many fans on Twitter and via email: "Where was Jonathan Papelbon?"

Isn't that like pinch-hitting Howard for Brown?

Papelbon is a known commodity. He is under contract for another three years and owed some $39 million in that span. He will close many more games for the Phillies.

He also has an injury history. The Phillies have shied away from using him in multiple-inning save chances. For who, for what?

"When I watch Papelbon sometimes, once I sit him and send him back out there, he has a little trouble," Manuel said. "I'm not saying I wouldn't have gone with him. I might have."

But the manager made decisions Thursday with 2013 in mind. The outcome was another meaningless blow in 2012. Which is more important to you?

Have a question? Send it to Matt Gelb's Mailbag.

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