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.
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.
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.