SAN FRANCISCO - When Juan Pierre was thrown out trying to steal third base Sunday in a totally unnecessary play, Charlie Manuel was quick to admit it was a mistake.
"But I don't want to send him a message," Manuel said. "We're still going to stay aggressive. And if we run, we will make mistakes. The more chances we take, every now and then we're going to get caught. And somebody's going to pay the price."
The Phillies manager smiled.
"Well, let me take care of that," he said. "Did I like him getting thrown out? No. I like it when he's safe, though."
So the Phillies, who led the majors with 10 steals in 11 chances entering Monday's play, will continue to run. Only two National League teams stole fewer bases than the Phillies in 2011, but the team posted the best success rate for the fifth consecutive season.
The trend began when former first-base coach Davey Lopes took over the running game in 2007. Even without Lopes in 2011, the Phillies were the most efficient base-stealing team in baseball at 80 percent. They just did it less frequently.
"I talked to them about that," Manuel said.
It's no surprise that as the Phillies' core has aged, its volume of stolen bases has decreased. But in 2012, the Phils attempted 1.2 steals per game over the first nine played, a higher rate than in any of the last five seasons. Of course, it is early.
There are greater risks, as Manuel said. Theoretically, the more the Phillies run, the closer they should fall to the league average in stolen-base percentage. That figure was 72 percent in 2011. If that was the Phillies' clip in 2011, they would have made 10 extra outs on the bases.
With a depleted offense, Manuel is willing to take those risks. And he sees advantages beyond the stolen base for his team.
"I want them to be aggressive and for them to let the other team know we're going to steal," Manuel said. "If we let them know, they'll be more apt to press and the pitcher might make a mistake and help play the game out. We might get more fastballs to hit in the middle of the order."
And it could be the difference between two singles' yielding a run or runners on the corners.
Howard status quo
Ryan Howard saw an undisclosed wound specialist on Monday in Philadelphia. He cannot expand his activity until the wound on his right heel completely heals, and that has yet to happen.
Phillies general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. said Howard continues to heal, but the process is slow. He underwent a second surgery Feb. 27 to clean an infection from where the original procedure on his torn Achilles was performed.
"The question is: When does he start doing stuff so it doesn't compromise the healing process?" Amaro said. "We're still on hold as far as that is concerned. Hopefully, we'll know more in the next couple of days."
Howard has not hit or run since that Feb. 27 surgery.
Chase Utley will meet with the team next week when it is in Phoenix. Utley is working with a physical therapist there. "His strength seems to be improving," Amaro said. "He's moving forward, too." . . . Michael Martinez (broken foot) will be in a boot for two more weeks. His injury is part of the reason the Phillies signed Mike Fontenot to a minor-league deal. Fontenot passed his physical and reported to extended spring training. He will spend about a week there before going to triple-A Lehigh Valley. . . . Pitching prospect Justin De Fratus (elbow soreness) faced live hitters Monday and threw about 30 pitches, including breaking balls. He will throw again Thursday and then could appear in a rehabilitation game. "He's making very good progress," Amaro said.
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