Does Charlie have Phillies on the right pace?

Big_chuck From the way Charlie Manuel explains it, he’s an organic kind of guy. In baseball there is a natural ebb and flow of things that Charlie doesn’t like to mess with. With its rhythms and whatnot, a baseball season unfolds a certain way for a reason so when there is anomaly that pops up, Charlie rarely bats an eye.

For instance, if a player comes out of the gate hitting everything in sight and posting huge numbers, Charlie doesn’t get too excited. Just wait, he says, everything will even out as long as nature is allowed to work its course. After all, it would be silly to sprint the first mile of a marathon with 25 miles left.

Pace yourself.

So with Shane Victorino back with the team after going 6-for-8 with a homer, triple and four RBIs in two Triple-A rehab games, and Chase Utley cleared to resume his hitting drills while Ryan Howard was back to taking grounders, don’t get too crazy with excitement yet. Charlie says there will be a period where the players will have to knock off some rust.

It won’t be the players’ fitness or skills that will be the issue, the skipper says. It will be the hitters’ timing. As Charlie explains, it often takes a player more time to recover his timing at the plate and his in-game conditioning. Sometimes just gripping a bat feels a bit weird even though the hits could be dropping in. As a result, a late-season injury to guys like Howard, Utley or Victorino might not be the boon logic would dictate.

On the plus side, the Phillies will have some depth.

“I feel like when we get everybody healthy our bench definitely should be as strong as it’s been all year,” Charlie said. “Without a doubt.”

That’s the only doubt Manuel doesn’t have. Otherwise he’s full of them. Baseball managers always are—even successful ones like Big Chuck. Truth is, calling them “managers” is a misnomer this time of year considering there is very little they get to manage at all. With the Phillies it has been about the injuries as well as some inexplicable ineffectiveness with the bullpen. Sure, Brad Lidge appears to have it together despite a bit of a dip in the velocity of his fastball, but the club’s lone lefty, J.C. Romero, is dealing with some strange “slow hand” phenomenon.

“My hand was slow,” Romero explained after a rough outing on Tuesday night against the Dodgers. “Not my arm. My arm got there. My hand was slow.”

Wait… aren’t they connected?

“I still, to a certain extent, don't understand what the problem is,” Charlie said about his lonely lefty. “We have to find out about it.”

See what were saying about “managing?” How can anyone have a say over a guy whose arm is moving faster than his hand? Perhaps it could be Romero’s mouth is working faster than his brain in this instance?

But don’t think for a minute Charlie would trade his injuries for the one Braves’ skipper Bobby Cox is dealing with, or for the craziness Mets’ manager Jerry Manuel has going on with his closer. After all, Victorino can go out there and play tonight while Utley and Howard should be back before the end of the month. Actually, the toughest decision Manuel has looming is whether or not to keep top hitting prospect Dom Brown in the majors or send him back to Triple-A for the final week(s) of the International League season.

Certainly there are some big issues concerning the Phillies, like what they are going to be able to do about the left-handed reliever problem. For now, we’ll just have to pretend that Ryan Madson is a lefty and hope he continues to strikeout left-handed hitters at a rate of 25 percent per at-bat. The righty handled two of the Dodgers’ toughest lefties in the eighth inning of a close game on Wednesday night and might find himself pushed into more righty-on-lefty action as long as Romero’s left hand continues to belabor the pace.

Still, no one with the Phillies was called down to the precinct house in order to post bail for the closer early Thursday morning. According to published reports, the Mets’ All-Star closer Francisco Rodriguez cursed at reporters before allegedly walking to another portion of the clubhouse where he was accused of committing third-degree assault on his 53-year-old father-in-law. The 53-year old went off to the hospital, while K-Rod was arraigned and released on $5,000 bail on Thursday.

With the rival Phillies headed for Queens this weekend, K-Rod likely will be serving a team-issued suspension. Meanwhile, ace lefty Johan Santana has been sued for rape by a Florida woman after authorities declined to prosecute.

ChuckIn comparison, Charlie will take those injuries.

But certainly not the one that appears to cost Braves’ future Hall-of-Famer Chipper Jones the rest of the season. It came out Thursday that Jones tore the ACL in his left knee and likely will have season-ending surgery. If that’s the case, the first-place Braves will go into the final month of the season without their best hitter, who just so happens to be a Phillie killer, while hoping the aches and pains suffered by All-Stars Jason Heyward and Martin Prado relent enough so they can carry the load.

“When you think of the Atlanta Braves, the first guy you think of is Chipper Jones,” Braves’ GM Frank Wren told the Associated Press. “His presence in our lineup has been increasing based on his performance the last couple of months. He was a force. So, yeah, we're losing a lot.”

So put this way, the Phillies might be coming together just in time. Considering spring training lasts approximately six weeks, Charlie’s boys ought to be running at full steam in time for the last week of the season.

Talk about perfect timing.

Phillies want what they already had

Cliff_lee The most telling story I’ve heard about the Phillies lately comes from Braves’ manager Bobby Cox when he heard that his NL East rivals were able to make a deal with the Blue Jays for Roy Halladay. When told that Halladay was joining up with the two-time defending National League champs, Cox didn’t quite break into hysterics like Nancy Kerrigan when she was kneecapped (literally) by a lead pipe, but it was close.

Cox says he cursed at a rate he saves for the likes of C.B. Bucknor or Dan Iassogna. It was more than angry over the fact that the Phillies had added the best pitcher in the game to a roster that went to the World Series twice in a row. Cox was upset because he’d been on the other side and knows what pitchers like Halladay can do for a team.

Remember back when the Braves, fresh off two straight trips to the World Series, added Greg Maddux to the staff with John Smoltz, Tom Glavine and Steve Avery? The troubling part wasn’t that the Braves suddenly had three future Hall of Famers and a fourth guy—Avery—who had already piled up two 18-win seasons and an MVP in the NLCS before he had turned 23. Nope, that wasn’t the part that drove everyone upside down.

The part that was the most heart wrenching was that with Maddux the Braves suddenly had three future Hall of Famers who were not even in their primes yet. All three guys were 26 or 27 when they joined up together and each had four seasons where they won at least 14 games in a season. In the case of Maddux and Glavine, 20 wins per season was the base line, while Smoltz, the least accomplished of the trio at the time, is the only pitcher to ever win at least 200 games and save at least 150.

Nope, the Braves weren’t messing around back then and when he heard that the Phillies had traded for Halladay, he saw history repeating itself. The Phillies, like the Braves, were poised to dominate the NL East for at least half of the next decade considering the ages of their stars of the rotation and the ability of their hitters. The Braves and Mets were going to have a tough time.

But then Cox heard that the Phillies had traded Cliff Lee and suddenly he wasn’t so worried any more. Oh sure, Halladay and Cole Hamels is a pretty nice combo, especially considering the fact that Hamels is just 26 the way Smoltz, Glavine and Maddux were two decades ago. Halladay, 33, was a bit older, but he had moved past the injury-prone years and was looking at another five seasons of top-level pitching.

Add Halladay to a rotation with Hamels and Lee and it’s the modern version of the ’93 Braves with J.A. Happ starring as Avery and Joe Blanton playing the role of Pete Smith. With that rotation the only thing the Phillies would have to worry about is injuries (duh) and whether the National League could win the All-Star Game to give the Phillies home-field advantage in the World Series.

But then Cox found out that the Phillies had traded Lee, too, and suddenly he wasn’t so upset any more. He didn’t have to worry about the best pitching trio in the game because Phils’ general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. believed it was more important for his team to be competitive for many years instead of great this year.

Those weren’t his words, of course, but they could have been. At least that’s the way it seems considering the Phillies added three prospects in J.C. Ramirez, Phillippe Aumont and Tyson Gillies from Seattle for a pitcher who might win his second Cy Young Award if he spends the entire season in the American League. Sure, there was a money aspect to it, too. Amaro says the Phillies could have afforded Lee this season, yes. However, it appears as if he was scared off by demands of a potential long-term deal from Lee’s camp.

This comes despite the fact that if Lee were to pitch 2010 for the Phillies at $9 million and then walked away in the winter because of some over-the-top contract demands, it’s the pitcher who suffers and not the club. At least that’s how it plays out in the always important PR aspect of it.

What makes all of that funny (not ha-ha funny) is the fact that four months after Lee was traded for those minor leaguers, Amaro and the Phillies gave Ryan Howard a five-year, $125 million deal that doesn’t kick in until 2012 and lasts until 2016. This is no to debate the merits of Howard’s contract extension. Good for him, I say. Instead, the curious thing about the contract extension for Howard was that his current deal won’t end until after 2011. And considering that Howard just got a $50,000 bonus for being named to the All-Star team, it’s been a pretty good year for the big fella.

Lee only got $10,000 for making the All-Star team and gets $250,000 more for winning the Cy Young. All he got for putting together the greatest postseason in team history since Grover Cleveland Alexander in 1915 was a trade to Seattle.

But even that’s not the funniest part (again, not ha-ha). The funniest part has been listening to the GM go on and on about how the Phillies need to add pitching possibly before the July 31 trading deadline with this fantastic quote:

image from fingerfood.typepad.com“My job is to continue to make this team better.”

He said this long after Lee was traded and now wants to go out and get a pitcher.

“I’m always more concerned about pitching,” Amaro said. “At the end of the day our team should be able to handle some losses in the lineup. With the offensive talent we have, we should be able to absorb some losses. But you can never have enough pitching if you want to contend.

“For me, pitching (remains a priority) because we know our infielders will be back.”

Nope, you can never have enough pitching if you want to contend. That’s what the Phillies’ general manager said on Tuesday afternoon before his team’s extra-inning loss to the Cox’s Braves, where Hamels again pitched well a day after Halladay beat the Braves with a complete-game gem.

However, instead of going for the triple threat with Lee, the Phillies closed out the series against the first-place Braves with 47-year-old lefty Jamie Moyer.

“If we had Cliff Lee, we wouldn’t have Roy Halladay,” Amaro said. “It’s pretty simple. Time and circumstance dictate what you can and can’t do. We felt like we were in a position to hold on to one and not the other, and long-term we couldn’t leave the cupboard bare.”

Oh, but the GM said the team could have kept them both in 2010. Instead, he’s talking about years down the road because in the Phillies’ world it seems it is better to be competitive than great.