Sunday, August 25, 2013

An epic night

By DENNIS DEITCH, @DennisDeitch
PHILADELPHIA – It would be one thing if Casper Wells had a tough night at the ballpark.
The problem for the struggling outfielder is that his tough night turned into a tough morning. And instead of his going 0-for-7 with four strikeouts and seven runners left on base being the roughest part of his night, it was the five runs he gave up.
As a pitcher. In the 18th inning. Until he was relieved by another position player.
So it went for Wells and the Phillies in a 12-7 loss to the Diamondbacks in an epic, 7-hour, 6-minute marathon that was the only downer in an otherwise wild week of walk-off wins. And thanks to the bizarre happenings that led to the Phillies using 10 pitchers and the teams tying a major-league record with 20 pitchers total, Roy Halladay will return to the mound for the Phils Sunday afternoon instead of making one more minor-league rehab start at Double-A Reading as planned. Among the pitchers burned was Tyler Cloyd, who was supposed to start Sunday’s game, but instead threw five shutout relief innings. Cloyd also had a leadoff double in the 16th, only to get stranded there.
General manager Ruben Amaro Jr., who was not at the ballpark Saturday night, had to be contacted and give the OK for Halladay to come off the disabled list. Halladay has made two mediocre starts for low-level teams as he tries to discover what type of pitcher he needs to be after having his shoulder surgically repaired in May.
As for the game that created this startlingly unexpected return for Doc, it was filled with oddities.
The time of game was a franchise record. So was the fact that two position players pitched, as John McDonald had to come to Wells’ rescue when things got ugly with two outs in the 18th.
The only reason this became two games’ worth of innings in one was due to the Phillies erasing a six-run deficit after their starting pitcher didn’t make it through the first inning.
By the end of the night, eight Phillies pitchers had longer outings than Ethan Martin. Among them was B.J. Rosenberg, who, pitching for a third straight day, labored through a scoreless top of the 17th. After he escaped trouble, manager Ryne Sandberg had Wells warm up in the bullpen while the Phils batted in the bottom half of the inning.
When the Phils went down quietly, Wells – who pitched a scoreless inning with the White Sox earlier this season – took the hill. And it went pretty well at first. Wells, showing a 91 mph fastball while pitching from the stretch with rudimentary mechanics, got Cliff Pennington to ground out and Tuffy Gosewisch to line out to McDonald in left.
Things soon got ugly. A string of hits and started by Tony Campana made for a painful end to a game the Phils had no business being in.
“I think it was 16-10 at that point when I came into that game,” for the White Sox, Wells said, “so it was definitely different circumstances.
“I was just trying to throw strikes. They hit it. I pitched when I was younger and when I was in college a little bit. I take it seriously. I try to compete.”
For a while it didn’t seem like the Phils would be competing at all on this night. They trailed 6-0 through 4 ½ innings, 7-1 after Arizona got another run in the top of the sixth to negate Ruiz’s fourth homer of the season in the bottom of the fifth.
Then things started getting freaky.
Roger Bernandina, batting leadoff as Sandberg continues to play with the batting order and give players opportunities to bring life to the lineup, hit a long solo homer to open the bottom of the sixth. Jimmy Rollins followed with a double and later scored on a wild pitch to cut the D-Backs’ lead to 7-3.
But it was in the eighth when the game got turned on its ear. Arizona brought Joe Thatcher in relief, and Bernadina (walk) and Rollins (single) again got a rally started. After Utley’s sacrifice fly plated Bernadina, Heath Bell was called in. John Mayberry struck out for the second out, but Carlos Ruiz singled to left, scoring Rollins and bringing Darin Ruf to the plate as the potential tying run.
Then he turned that potential energy into kinetic.
Ruf, who led the planet in August home runs last year with 20 at Double-A Reading, hit his N.L.-leading ninth homer of August, bringing a roar to the ballpark – even if only a fraction of the fans who used to fill the place were present.
“It’s been a lot of fun the last couple of days, watching people get clutch hits,” McDonald said. “We didn’t feel like we were out of it when we were down early in the game. We felt like we had a shot.”
When Ruf’s home run landed several rows deep in the left-field seats, it made moot one of the more bizarrely bad starts you’ll see by a pitcher.
Three hours earlier, Martin was one pitch away from doing what he had done in each of his first four big-league starts: Put away the opponent in the opening inning without allowing a run.
The Phillies’ young right-hander had retired the first two Diamondbacks he faced, then had National League MVP candidate Paul Goldschmidt frozen with his fastball and curveball, both thrown for strikes.
Then Goldschmidt fouled off a pitch. And another. And another. On the 10th pitch of the at-bat, Martin threw ball four.
That brought to the plate Martin Prado, who likewise worked a long count, and on the eighth pitch of that showdown he mashed a two-run homer.
You could see the rest of the air leave Martin’s balloon. A walk, two singles and another walk, and his night was over.
But the Phillies’ night wasn’t close to finished.
The last time a starting pitcher in the majors got the first two outs of his outing and didn’t survive the first inning was June 15, 2012, when Blue Jays pitcher Drew Hutchison had his elbow ligament tear in a start against the Phillies on a 2-1 pitch to Hunter Pence.
As for the last time a starting pitcher not only got the first two outs of an inning, but also had the third hitter in a 0-2 hole in the count before failing to finish the frame … that will take more research. Put it this way: You probably could count the members of that group on one hand.
It was a night during which a lot of unusual things were going down. The Phillies wished they weren’t among them.

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Charlie Manuel Will Live On, Probably In a Better Condition Than The Phillies

This isn't a eulogy for Charlie Manuel.

Charlie didn't die. He knows what death is because he went nose-to-nose with it when his colon considered handing in its resignation to him more than a decade ago. He rejected that notion, because Charlie Manuel doesn't quit anything, and he sure as hell isn't going to let any of his major organs get away with it, no matter how much abuse he put them through while mashing baseballs as a fiery, young ballplayer on both sides of the Pacific.

Charlie Manuel is a manager. He might not be the manager of the Phillies any longer, but he isn't out to own any job descriptions that involve "special," or "senior," or "assistant." If the job doesn't have "manager" or "coach" in the title, he will pass. He won't be one of those old guys who shows up at spring training for a week or two in uniform to serve as a living statue of nostalgia for those in the stands. When he was a coach and manager in Cleveland, Hall of Famer Bob Feller used to put on that octogenarian dog-and-pony show every spring training in Winter Haven, Fla. To Charlie, that was about as relevant to the work at hand as Max Patkin's act, and he didn't have time for that baloney. (Speaking of which, Charlie had a more serious bone to pick with Feller, but that is one of countless confidential stories that makes you leave a rap session with Chuck grateful your ears were there to pay witness.)

The 2013 Phillies have been a disaster, and there were pretty clear signs of the mess in spring training. The ridiculous attempt to create a false narrative about Roy Halladay ignored clear-cut signs that the veteran pitcher needed surgery. Instead of that happening, say, March 1, and offering him a chance to make a comeback in the second half of the season with a repaired shoulder, Halladay will make a so-what September return for a team that wins once a week. It was every bit as short-sighted and overly deferential to a player because of "He's A Veteran Syndrome" as the Chase Utley/Ryan Howard mess the previous spring. The consequences in Halladay's case still aren't as damning as the haunting decision to push Howard back onto the field for the second half of 2012 with a atrophied leg and unsightly gait following his Achilles' tendon reconstruction. That not only resulted in Howard returning to the field a shell of himself, but it likely inflicted the damage to his knee that left him wounded this season and in need of more leg surgery. As much as everyone likes to assume Howard's natural hitting skills have eroded, the fact that he hasn't been permitted to heal properly and be in a physical condition to prove otherwise has been a crime by the organization that has devastated the offense.

The bullpen. The bullpen. When you have reached the final week of spring training and not one of your young arms - and there were a half-dozen of them in camp - has done a single thing to stand out as a reliable relief pitcher, that is not an unfortunate coincidence. That is a sign that, if you plan on competing, you need to find a trade for a veteran reliever who has shown dependability, and make it fast. The Angels, who aren't exactly a shining example of front-office acumen, got Dane De La Rosa (5-1, 3.62 ERA in 55 games)  from the Rays a few days before the season for a younger, borderline big-league reliever named Steve Geltz, who is from a similar prospect realm as the half-dozen guys who weren't cutting it in camp. So they were out there. They did nothing about it, instead handing the ball to a gaggle young pitchers who did not earn their keep in what was supposed to be a heated spring competition.

The Nate Scheirholtz-versus-Laynce Nix debacle is well chronicled. The Phillies have been willing to throw tens of millions of dollars at guys who have almost no shot of earning their keep in the sunsets of those contracts, yet their sphincters get tight over the thought of shrugging off $1.35 million poorly spent on a fifth outfielder. It's pound-dumb, penny-moronic.

No manager was turning what Charlie Manuel was given into anything more than it turned out to be. Veterans like Jimmy Rollins are too smart for their own good sometimes. If you can evaluate the situation when Michael Martinez is still getting big-league opportunities and Phillippe Aumont - the most obviously messed-in-the-head pitcher the Phillies have employed since Joe Cowley - actually gets called back to the majors after stinking it up for the Phils, then stinking it up for Lehigh Valley, don't you think Rollins does? Don't you think that Rollins' lack of hustle is an act of physical preservation from a guy who knows this team isn't winning anything? Jimmy Rollins is a baseball player, but he's also a businessman. If one of the singers he has signed to his label is playing a show in front of 500 people in Reno tonight, but a crowd of 15,000 in Vegas the following night, do you think he wants that singer to put her vocal chords on full-blast for that show in front of 500?

That isn't making an excuse for Rollins, it's trying to open a door to his soul.

Almost everyone knows Ruben Amaro Jr. is the one who let this team down. Even Ruben Amaro knows it. The problem is this: David Montgomery is the person who has to judge Amaro's performance, and since it doesn't seem the general manager is going to lose his job, it means Montgomery has to judge Amaro's plan to fix this mess. And, frankly, that isn't David Montgomery's strength. Dallas Green is a wonderful baseball guy, but the art of running an organization has changed a lot since his full-time days doing it. Ed Wade actually helped the Phillies get to their glory days, but he is a strip-it-down-and-start-over specialist working as an adviser for a team pot-committed to reloading.

There is one guy employed by the Phillies with the credentials to listen to Amaro's plan and give it a brutally honest assessment. That is Pat Gillick. And if Pat doesn't want his legacy sullied by having "he told the Phillies to hire Ruben Amaro Jr. as his successor, and that was a disaster" as his final act, then he better give Amaro some good advice.

As for Charlie, maybe he'll get a big-league gig managing next year, maybe not. He has a huge supporter in Jayson Werth in D.C., but the Nationals would be trading one 70-year-old manager for another. That would be strange. However, the Nats have this undeniable love of tweaking the Phillies, and what better way than to have Manuel in the visiting dugout at Citizens Bank Park with Bryce Harper at his disposal?

If Charlie doesn't get a job as a manager in the majors, an organization would do themselves well to ask if he'll manage a Double-A team. Maybe his good friend Jim Leyland gets an opening on his staff for him. What seems certain is Charlie won't warm up to becoming a relic whose opinions are politely and lightly taken a senior special adviser assistant emeritus blah blah blah.

That sounds like zombie work, and Charlie Manuel ain't dead.