CLEARWATER, Fla. - A missed cutoff man in June could haunt the Phillies come October.
It probably has done so in the past.
Phillies bench coach Jimy Williams knows that fundamentals can change a season. He served as Atlanta's third-base coach from 1990 to 1996. In 1993, the last season the Phillies made the postseason, the Braves finished first in the National League West with 103 victories. The San Francisco Giants finished second with 102 and missed the playoffs.
"How did we win that one extra game, where we went on and they went home?" Williams said last week at Bright House Networks Field. "Another year, we beat the Dodgers by one game. You play 162 games and win by one game. Why? Was it getting that guy from second to third? What was it? Was it a pickoff play? I don't know what it was, but it was proper fundamentals. It was teaching properly and being repetitive and working with a kid. If you tell a kid 100 times and he doesn't quite get it, tell him 101."
That's what spring training is for.
The Phillies began full-squad workouts Tuesday, but it's likely that few people outside baseball know the method to the madness of the running, throwing, fielding and hitting during the warm Florida mornings and afternoons.
But there is a reason for everything. Williams makes sure of that. He is the spring-training coordinator, which means he plans the workouts and keeps everything running smoothly. Former third-base coach Bill Dancy held that role the previous two seasons, and John Vukovich ran spring trainings in Clearwater for countless years before that.
Williams is quick to mention that, while he holds the title as spring-training coordinator, pitching coach Rich Dubee plays just as large a role. Dubee is the one responsible for getting the pitchers' arms in shape.
But both are there to keep everybody healthy.
"Our whole focus is health," Williams said. "It's to keep this team healthy but yet to go through the fundamentals at least one time prior to the time we play a spring-training game. We can't just jump into it and start doing everything we want to do the first day. You want them all to be able to participate in all the drills. So you go into it at a gradual pace."
On Tuesday, infielders took 30 minutes of ground balls.
Jimmy Rollins and others remarked after the workout that they had never done that drill for so long.
Think 30 minutes of grounders doesn't sound like much? Try it.
"I've been in camps where you take a lot of ground balls," infielder Abraham Nuñez said. "But I can't remember a half hour."
But there's a reason for that.
"It's mainly for their legs, for conditioning," Williams said. "This whole program is based on the guy who has done the least, whoever it is, so that we don't hurt anybody but we condition him and it helps him. We don't take infield until the day before the first game. We don't do cutoffs and relays until the day before the first game. Why? To give them all those days in between to build their arm strength, so that they can perform and play against Florida State [on Wednesday]. Our whole focus is to have this whole team healthy when we play these games to give each kid an opportunity and chance to make this team."
Manager Charlie Manuel, Williams and Dubee met in Clearwater last month to come up with a schedule for their team. It has been smooth thus far. The Phillies have been economical in the use of their time. They have been getting their workouts done in about 21/2 hours, which is great for everybody.
"I think they want to come back again the next day because they feel good, rather than say, 'Oh, God, how long are we going to be out there today?' " Williams said. "You won't see pitchers shagging out there. There's no sense in it. Dubee and I think the same way. You're going to stand out there and get cool? Get all your work done and come in. We're the coaches. We'll shag. And when the position players aren't hitting, they'll shag. They basically keep moving, too. But the pitchers need to get their stuff done and move on. You'll get a better effort and better things from them."
The players have liked the quicker pace.
It might make them even more inclined to do extra work afterward. That might mean infield work with third-base coach Steve Smith, who is the infield instructor. It could mean working on baserunning with first-base coach Davey Lopes, or having Williams work with pitchers on their bunting.
"It's going to help everybody," righthander Geoff Geary said. "There's nothing worse than dreading a drill."
Much has been made of fundamentals this spring. Slow starts have hurt the Phillies in recent seasons, and at times last season they made mental mistakes that cost them.
The Phillies hope to change that this year.
"All organizations talk about it," Williams said. "But the main thing in my thought process is proper fundamentals - teaching it properly and don't let things slide; don't be afraid to correct them; make them do it right. It only helps [the players], and it helps our team. That one play might make the difference."
"Fundamentals are what win games," Nuñez said. "Do you remember the World Series? If the Tigers had executed, they might have won."