Inside the Phillies: Amaro waiting to see whether Phillies core can still produce

It's fair to wonder whether the Phillies' core will ever have an extended period of playing time together again. (Yong Kim/Staff Photographer)

It was a hot seat of sorts.

As the Phillies took batting practice before the start of their three-game series against the Washington Nationals on Monday night, general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. sat on the brown wooden planks inside the home dugout. Surrounded by the media on a hot, humid afternoon, he spent nearly 20 minutes answering questions about his disappointing team.

The best news Amaro could offer before the game was that catcher Carlos Ruiz and second baseman Chase Utley appear close to returning from the disabled list. He is clinging to the hope that a healthy lineup will remedy this team's myriad problems that were on full display during a 3-7 road trip.

Better news came during the game, a 5-4 Phillies win that included the first walk-off hit of Domonic Brown's career after closer Jonathan Papelbon's first blown save of the season in the top of the ninth. It was an evening that included three hits and a walk for Ryan Howard, including his first home run since May 29.

One night, of course, could not erase 70 previous games of unsatisfactory baseball.

"Obviously, we haven't performed the way that we hoped, particularly the guys who are our core guys," Amaro said.


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That's a reference to Ruiz, Utley, Howard and Jimmy Rollins, a well-decorated core four who rarely get on the field together anymore. Those four have played together only 11 times through the Phillies' first 71 games.

"I think we have some time yet," Amaro said. "It's not early anymore by any means, but we have to get these guys on the field and playing. Then we'll have a better idea of whether or not . . . they'll be able to produce close to where it can be a little more acceptable. Right now, it's not."

It's fair to wonder whether the Phillies would be better with a healthy lineup, but it's equally fair to wonder whether this core will ever have an extended period of playing time together again. Utley hasn't played more than 115 games since 2009. Ruiz has been on the disabled list every year since 2009. Howard is playing with a gimpy left knee, and Rollins has a sore foot and hip. They are 33 or older.

"That's certainly part of it," Amaro said. "They can't perform if they aren't on the field. We have to keep an eye on it. The thing that Chase has [a strained oblique muscle] is fairly new. Chooch has tweaked his legs before, but I don't think it's an epidemic."

It's not as if the core four have provided some sort of baseball utopia this season. The Phillies are 5-6 and have averaged just three runs per game when they have played together.

The general manager tried to plug some holes during the offseason but so far has won zero votes of confidence in what he has done. He believes that's a by-product of the lack of production from the core.

"It puts heat on some of those complementary players," Amaro said. Not to mention the general manager who acquired the complementary players who have not been all that complementary.

The most significant message coming from the general manager was that he remains in a wait-and-see mentality as far as what he will do at the trade deadline. He reiterated that he still believes quality pitching is the No. 1 ingredient for good baseball, which is why it would take a whopper of an offer to lure Cliff Lee or Papelbon from the Phillies. He also hinted that some of his high-paid players - Howard and Rollins are probably the two best examples - are probably not that attractive to other teams.

"I think if you're going to end up being the seller . . .  you're probably better off waiting, because you get more people involved," Amaro said. "It's like any other market. I think that right now, we've had few discussions with clubs because they are still trying to decide if they are pretenders or contenders . . . just like we are."

For the first time in a long time, there seems to be doubt about that issue even inside the Phillies' clubhouse. When he was asked about remaining with the Phillies, Lee made it clear that winning is the most important thing to him. Cole Hamels deflected a question Sunday about whether the Phillies were a playoff team.

And then there was this from manager Charlie Manuel when asked whether he thought his team was underachieving before Monday night's game.

"No, I don't," he said. "As a matter of fact, we might be playing better than we could play. Everybody is getting a chance to play and everybody is getting a chance to pitch, and we'll see. We always talk about the talent we have and things like that. I don't think I'm holding the talent back."


 Contact Bob Brookover at Follow on Twitter @brookob.