Manuel might be losing patience with Phillies' unproductive lineup

Charlie Manuel is a hitting guy and can be as protective of his lineup as a mother hen.

"People say our offense had sputtered," the Phillies manager said, a trifle defensively, as late as yesterday afternoon. "I can tell you a lot of things that have sputtered."

He's got a point. The Phillies won only three of Opening Day starter Brett Myers' 17 appearances before he was sent to the minors. And you can't pin all that on the lineup. More recently, the bullpen has sprung a few leaks. On Monday, Adam Eaton didn't get out of the third inning.

When a team goes bad, there are always a variety of reasons. Still, by the time the a 2-0 loss to the Cardinals ended last night at Citizens Bank Park - St. Louis starter Joel Pineiro earned his first win since May - even Manuel was in no mood to blow smoke about the team's lack of production.

It was the sixth time this season - and the fourth time in their last 31 games - that the Phillies have been blanked. In 2007, on their way to the organization's first playoff appearance since 1993, they were shut out just three times all year.

It took 17 minutes for the manager to show up for his postgame press conference, an interlude that he could have spent in a team meeting to point out the team's offensive deficiencies.

"I guess we have to give their guys some credit for shutting us down," he said when he eventually arrived at the podium. "At the same time, we're not generating much offense."

When he was done, Manuel didn't make himself available for followup questions as he customarily does.

The Phillies haven't generated much offense for most of the last month. First the explanation was they were facing American League hitters. Then it was that this team has problems with pitchers it's unfamiliar with.

Those reasons no longer apply. Now the Phillies are starting to face NL pitchers who they have some history with. And they're still not hitting.

Since completing a three-game sweep of the Braves in Atlanta on June 8, they are 9-17. And a lot of that can be attributed to a lack of consistent hitting.

"We've got to be able to score a few more runs," said leftfielder Pat Burrell. "I think everybody is frustrated. We're not getting guys on. And when we do, we're not getting them in. You go through ruts like this."

You get the feeling, the way things are going, that Bob Feller could take the mound now and throw a blanket over the Phillies' offense. And Rapid Robert is 89 years old.

The bottom of the second inning summed up the phrustration. Ryan Howard led off with a walk and Burrell doubled to put runners at second and third with nobody out.

Manuel was talking the other day about his team's inability to score "easy runs." The kind of runs that are low-hanging fruit, the kind of runs that can be scored with a sacrifice fly or even a ground ball.

It happened again. Jayson Werth struck out. Pedro Feliz walked to load the bases, but Carlos Ruiz grounded into a doubleplay for the 11th time this year.

And that unmistakable, sinking, here-we-go-again feeling rippled through the blue seats.

"We're not getting hits," Howard said. "We're not scoring runs. We've got to find ways to manufacture runs. We're not always going to hit some runs. Sometimes we've got to play small ball."

A telling sign of just how desperate the situation is becoming is that Howard, who has hit more home runs than any player in baseball the last 2 1/2 seasons, tried to bunt his way on against Cardinals' closer Ryan Franklin in the bottom of the ninth with nobody on and one out.

"For me to hit a homer there means nothing," he explained. "I saw [Cardinals third baseman Troy] Glaus playing over and I was just trying to get on base to help the team."

He ended up singling up the middle, extending his hitting streak to 11 games, but was still on first when the game ended.

This is a teamwide slump. But here's an interesting stat: The Phillies are 20-7 when shortstop Jimmy Rollins, who usually leads off, scores at least one run. They're 13-27 when he doesn't.

"With our team, our offense is generated by the top of our order," Manuel said. "We get Rollins and [Shane] Victorino on and then the guys behind them knock them in. And that's not happening now."

Burrell looks at the bright side.

"We've got an excellent team. We've got good players," he said. "Maybe we're a little tired, but that's no excuse. If everybody gets going, we're going to do a lot of damage."

Manuel seems to be running out of patience waiting for that time to come. *