CLEARWATER, Fla. - Three of your four highest-paid players are on the disabled list and the only one who is not - Cliff Lee - has yet to win a game.
Your team has been in last place for 43 straight days, the franchise's most prolonged stretch in the basement since 2002, which, coincidentally, is the last season the team finished below .500. For a brief period last week, your team slipped to 10 games out of first place and is still nine out in the middle of June.
Welcome to Ruben Amaro Jr.'s world.
Before watching Chase Utley play his first game on a minor-league rehab assignment with single-A Clearwater last week, the Phillies general manager sat in the stands at Bright House Field and answered questions on myriad subjects, including the quickly approaching trade deadline, triple-A outfielder Domonic Brown, and his team's inability to hit in clutch situations.
He also raved about second baseman Freddy Galvis, who is now on the disabled list with a fractured back, and showed optimism about the recoveries of disabled veterans Utley, Ryan Howard, and Roy Halladay.
Utley began playing the field for the first time last week in Clearwater and Halladay started a throwing program earlier than anticipated Friday.
Question: With your team struggling, have you fielded any calls asking you if you're interested in trading some of your players?
Amaro: We have conversations all the time, and all the conversations that I've had were trying to figure out what I can do to add to this club to make it better. I'm still very optimistic that we're going to get guys back and start playing better baseball.
It is not early anymore and over the first third of the season we have not played well and that's been disappointing. I do believe in us being a pretty good second-half team. I also believe these guys are going to come back and start playing, and that helps me stay optimistic about where we're going.
Q: Are you talking about adding more than just your own guys - Utley, Ryan Howard and Roy Halladay?
Amaro: If there is a possibility, yes. We don't know what it is we're going to need on July 31, if there is a specific need. We have to kind of wait to see what the health status is going to be of the players coming back, particularly [Halladay], because if Doc doesn't come back it makes the challenge even tougher for us. But Doc seems to be doing real well. . . . It's important to get our horses back on the field. Once we do, I think that will help us have a better idea of what our needs may be and which direction we need to go.
Q: Does the second wild card make it more difficult to become a seller?
Amaro: We talk about it all the time. The injury bug is something that is going to affect everybody, so who's to say what is going to happen to the teams above us right now. I'm not going to wish ill will on other clubs, but it has been such a part of the game these days that you never know what's going to happen. You try to put yourself in a position where you can come back and be a contender, and we think that we will be. There are a lot of things that can happen with close to 100 games still left to play.
Q: Are you worried it might be too late when you start getting guys back?
Amaro: Oh, yeah, I worry about it every day. It's my job to worry about it, especially with the way we've played. There have been a lot of games and a lot of situations where we should have won and had we played sound, fundamental baseball we would have won, but we haven't for whatever reason. That needs to turn around, obviously, for us to be a contender.
Q: Do you think Utley's future is as a designated hitter?
Amaro: I see him as a second baseman. If he comes to me one day and says, "Maybe I'm better off doing something else," then we'll listen to him. But I think just like any other athlete, if he feels like he can do it physically, he's going to go out and play his position.
Q: What are your thoughts about Domonic Brown now that he is playing well at Lehigh Valley? (Brown was sidelined Thursday by a right- knee injury.)
Amaro: Domonic Brown had a . . . good two or three weeks where he has been healthy and playing and starting to play a better brand of baseball, and I'm pleased to see that. He just needs to continue to do it. It sounds like he is confident and playing well and doing some of the things we want him to do. But bringing up Domonic Brown right now - he's not going to save our club and it may not be the best for him long-term.
We have to put Dom in a position that he feels like when he's coming to the big leagues, he's coming to stay. It has to be at a time when Dom is ready to be a major-league player and be a contributor on a daily basis.
It's important for people to understand that just because a player has played well for a couple of weeks does not necessarily mean he's ready to be in the big leagues and ready to contribute. As I've said before, he would very much benefit from 400 to 450 at-bats at triple A before he comes to the big leagues.
Q: Have you been encouraged by anything you've seen?
Amaro: I was extremely encouraged by how Freddy Galvis was playing, because his energy and the way he goes about playing, he was probably one of the smartest kids on the field. No disrespect to the veterans on our club, but he might have the best aptitude on our club as far as baseball is concerned. He's as good as anyone out there. I'm very, very pleased by that.
I'm also pleased with the way some of the guys in our bullpen have stepped up. We're in a position now where everyone expects us to throw nothing but zeros up there every single time out, but there have been times where guys like Joe Savery have come and pitched pretty darn well. Jake Diekman has done well and they have had their struggles, but that's all part of the learning process.
If you remember, Utley and [Jimmy] Rollins and Howard and [Cole] Hamels, they didn't all dominate when they arrived on the scene. It's very, very rare where you get a guy like Evan Longoria who is all of a sudden a superstar right out of the chute. It's about developing and having guys become good, quality major-league players.
Q: You guys went into the weekend second in the National League in hitting, but near the bottom in a lot of situational hitting categories. Why is that such a problem?
Amaro: If I had an answer for our problem, we'd be in a different position. My only guess as to the problem is that we try to do too much. When you put guys in situations they're not used to or capable of handling, I think they feel like they have to do too much. That's only human nature.
Q: Given the absence of Utley and Howard, are you happy with what the offense has done?
Amaro: Lately we're swinging the bats better, but obviously there are situations with less than two outs where we have had some pretty glaring weaknesses. Hopefully that will turn around. Like anything else, I think things are contagious. Right now, it's a bit of a struggle for our guys.
Q: You are 12-19 at home. Do you know why it has been such a struggle?
Amaro: No, I really don't.
Q: Is it more difficult to play at home when things are not going well?
Amaro: The fans have been very good to us. There is demand there, but they should be demanding. They should have high expectations of players.
Contact Bob Brookover
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