As the Phillies turn

There are so many underlying themes and subplots with these Phillies that it makes a day with the team seem as if one were watching a mini-series. Swing a dead cat and hurl it through the Phillies’ clubhouse and chances are it will bean a would-be story in the melon.

But the main premise with the Phillies remains unchanged. It’s all about injuries and pitching, folks.

In Thursday’s series finale in Chicago the injury bugged showed that it wasn’t just monopolized by the initiated. No, it appears as if all one has to do is pull on a Phillies uniform and something crazy will happen. Kyle Lohse, the new starting the pitcher the Phillies picked up in a trade from the Reds on Monday had his Phillies’ suit on for just 29 pitches and one inning before he got all nicked up by a line drive off his forearm.

How long he’ll be out is anyone’s guess.

“Just the way it welted up right away, I knew they weren’t going to let me go out there and chance it,” Lohse told reporters after the 10-6 victory over the Cubs. “We’ll see how it goes. I don’t think it’s serious enough for the DL, but it was pretty bad.”

Lohse is hardly the biggest problem for manager Charlie Manuel and general manager Pat Gillick. Far from it, in fact. The Phillies stayed in the playoffs chase without Lohse, chances are they will stay close to the first-place Mets with him doing his best Danny Tartabull impression.

Nevertheless, it’s a fun little exercise to imagine how much better the Phillies could be had the injuries not plagued the team so thoroughly – and by fun we mean in the same manner as pouring a can of paint thinner on top of a bon fire. You know, Beavis & Butthead stuff.

Think about what would have happened this week if Chase Utley had not been beaned by that pitch at the Bank last week. Certainly Gillick would have never gone out and traded for Tadahito Iguchi even though he didn’t really have to give up much to get him. More importantly there’s a strong possibility that Ryan Howard would not be in such a swoon if Utley were still hitting ahead of him in the lineup.

“Teams probably are not going to give me anything to hit even more now,” Howard forecasted soon after Utley’s injury. “It’s definitely going to be hard with him not being here, the way he works pitchers and has such good ABs.”

With Utley on the shelf, Howard is 5-for-26 (.192) with three RBIs, no homers and 15 strikeouts. Clearly Howard is trying to carry the load with Utley out, though he dismissed the idea when the subject was broached by a few of the li’l newshounds travelling around with the team. However, Manuel believes it just could be the case just as he admitted it was the case in the beginning of the season when Howard got off to a slow start before landing on the disabled list in May.

Meanwhile, one of those underlying themes that could become a major focus if the Phillies are still in the hunt a month from now remains the right arm of reliever Tom Gordon. The veteran right-hander pitched on Thursday afternoon and was able to hand over a lead to closer Brett Myers despite giving up a run, two hits and a walk in the eighth inning, but that wasn’t the case the night before.

Gordon complained of shoulder tightness before the game and informed Manuel that he wasn’t available, which didn’t really work out too well. As a result, Myers came in to pitch in the ninth inning of a tied game (on the road), and had he been able to get out of the inning J.D. Durbin was set to come in and pitch until ol’ Mother Leary’s cows came home to Chicago.

The coincidental part of that is Durbin was brought in to be the long man today when Lohse was knocked out after just one inning.

So maybe it all worked out?

Maybe. Maybe not. Myers likely would have escaped the inning last night had the injured Michael Bourn been available to play left field instead of Jayson Werth when Matt Murton’s sinking liner dropped in for a double.

Anyway, there’s a lot of that woulda, coulda, shoulda stuff going on with the Phillies these days. You know, kind of like Beavis & Butthead.

Fire! Fire! Fire!

***
Tomorrow (or maybe later) we finally get to Barry Bonds and David Walsh’s book.

We should also mention that Pat Burrell is hitting hell out of the ball these days… if we rip him when he’s bad, it’s only fair to point out when he’s playing well.

The new closer

For the second straight time in a victory, the Phillies got a 1-2-3 ninth inning from their closer. Interestingly though, one of those was from the closer who went to the All-Star Game in 2006 and saved 34 games. The other, on Thursday night, came from the team’s 2007 Opening Day starter who has pitched nearly 200 innings for the past four seasons and signed a three-year, $26 million deal during the winter.

The closer, Tom Gordon, as we all know, is gone for the time being. The timeline for his return is unknown after it was reported that he had another dose of cortisone injected to his injured shoulder and will be unable to attempt to throw a baseball for at least a week. From a strictly knee-jerk point-of-view it seems rather unlikely that Gordon will return as the closer this season. It seems more apt that Brett Myers, the new closer who is 1-for-1 in save chances for his entire career, will keep the job as long as he wants it.

Who knows, perhaps the closer role is one that Myers destined for all along? When Larry Bowa was manager of the Phillies there was talk of how Myers was the “closer-of-the-future.” His demeanor and repertoire of pitches, it was said, could be better suited for that role. Those ideas resurfaced during spring training when one intrepid scribe broached the subject with the Phillies’ brass. Before anyone could say, “great beard of Bedrosian!” talk of such a move was all over the television, papers, and the Internets.

Here’s what I’m wondering: based on the way Gordon ended the 2006 season, was the plan always to turn Myers into the closer? And secondly, when was the last time an Opening Day starter had a save before he had a win? Has there ever been an Opening Day starter that turned into the teams’ closer by the 28th game?

Anyone have the number for Elias?

What in the name of Mike Jackson…

You have to give credit where credit is due, and in this case kudos go out to the Phillies. Big kudos.

The Phillies, finally, have figured out how to misdirect (read: lie) everyone without tipping their hand. Oh sure, in this particular instance there were plenty of clues as well as the proverbial writing on the wall, but when pushed and shoved and asked all the probing questions, the Phillies stayed on message, stuck to the story and never wavered.

Boy how things have changed. How so? Well, there was a time – back in 2004, I suppose – where Jim Thome was held out of a game and then not used in a late-inning, pinch-hitting situation against a right-handed pitcher even though the tying runs were on base and a home run could have won it for the Phillies. When pressed on why he didn’t use Thome in that particular situation, manager Larry Bowa tersely answered that his slugger was “unavailable.” Time and time again Bowa repeated those words… “He was unavailable.” Or, “I told you he was unavailable.”

Over and over again, like a broken record, he spoke.

But upon some reflection, Bowa slowly and thoughtfully sauntered back into the clubhouse, called over the writers as he propped himself up on the table in the middle of the room and waited for a few stragglers to gather around.

Then he confessed.

I know, Larry Bowa.

Bowa just didn’t feel right about hiding Thome’s injury and used the notion that the opposition would read the stories and use that knowledge in an attempt to expose the slugger’s weakness. After all, ballplayers do not talk amongst themselves and rely on the daily coverage from the press for their information for all of the happenings around Major League Baseball. Nevertheless, Bowa couldn’t keep the secret, though, like any self-respecting baseball manager, he blamed the press the same way Ol’ Man Johnson did with “those meddling kids” in the Scooby Doo cartoons.

“I would have gotten away with keeping Thome on the bench if it wasn’t for you muckracking little newshounds… drat!”

In the caper of Tom “Flash” Gordon and his meddlesome shoulder, however, Charlie Manuel never charted off message. When his closer was spotted at the Tampa International Airport waiting to board a plane back to Philadelphia, Manuel and the rest of the Phillies’ brass stuck to the script.

“He’s just going back for a routine check-up,” they said. “Nothing to worry about.”

Nah. Gordon had to have his arm checked out during his first spring training with the Phillies and went on to have a first half worthy of an All-Star nod. At the time the news of the check-up conjured up images of Mike Jackson and the 2000 Phillies. Remember that? Think of where the Phillies would have ended up that season if they didn’t have Jeff Brantley… wait, 2000? Never mind.

But, when Gordon stumbled out of the gates, blowing three save chances in April and complaining about his strength and inability to through his curve with his normal panache, the Phillies followed the lines.

“Gordon still has good stuff,” they said. “The fact he’s gotten hit is the location of the pitches he’s thrown.”

When Brett Myers, the Opening Day starter, was bumped out of the rotation and into the role of set-up man for Gordon, the answers remained the same. Myers to the ‘pen? It was just a way of shoring up the team’s weakness. Why would anyone think anything different?

“Gordon is our closer and we’re committed to him until Brett becomes better,” they said.

So wouldn’t you know it that after Gordon’s first perfect inning of the season for a save in Tuesday’s victory in Atlanta that everything would come unhinged? The day after that outing, where he got a pop out and a pair of strikeouts for his fifth save, Gordon told leading bulldog and Delawarean, Scott Lauber, that his shoulder wasn’t feeling so good and that probably wouldn’t be able to pitch regularly until it starts to feel better.

After the game, and nearly past the deadline for most of the newspaper writers in Atlanta, Manuel finally revealed the truth. Gordon was hurt with an injury similar to the one that sidelined him for most of last August. Gordon, 39, reportedly could miss significant time.

“Since spring training, I’ve been concerned about Flash,” Manuel told the writers late last night.

What?

“He was sore in spring training when we kind of shut him down,” Manuel told the writers last night. “He was a little stiff and sore.”

Come again?

“I don’t want to speculate,” he told the scribes. “Hell, I’m not a doctor.”

Huh?

“I’m sure Brett will get some opportunities to close,” he revealed to the writers.

Uh, yeah. Anyway, as his teammates headed for a charter flight to the coast where they open a four-game series against the Giants tonight, Gordon jetted back to Philadelphia to be examined – again – by team physician, Dr. Michael Ciccotti. When he returns is anyone’s guess.

More: Phillies lose game and Gordon
Even more: Ouch! Gordon ailing as Phils fall again
Sweeps week bonus coverage: Gordon out, Myers in

Closing time for Gordon?

There’s nothing like a good, old-fashioned freakout/team meeting to get things rolling for Charlie Manuel’s team. Currently riding a season-best three-game winning streak, the Phillies have gone from the worst record in the Majors to the current second-best winning streak in baseball.

Last season, as everyone recalls, Manuel wigged out in the dugout between innings of a game in Florida and the Phillies promptly won nine in a row and 13 of 14. At 7-11, the Phillies are one game behind where they were last season at this time.

So the Phillies – with the wins and hits finally rolling in and three games against the lowly Washington Nationals coming up – are on the way. Right?

Maybe. Maybe not.

Instead, the question now is who is the closer? Does Tom Gordon hold onto the role by default or is it there for Brett Myers to snatch away? Before yesterday’s game Manuel didn’t really clear that up.

Or did he?

“It depends on how quick Brett (Myers) can come along,” Manuel said. “Gordon is our closer and we’re committed to him until Brett becomes better or whatever and we’ll just have to see from there. Gordon still has good stuff. I think the fact he’s gotten hit is the location of the pitches he’s thrown.

“At the same time, we have to get Myers out there in a save situation to see how things go.”

As offered in a previous post, Gordon’s fastball still has its velocity but is struggling with the command with his curve. Plus, at 39, Gordon has a lot of miles on his arm over the last 19 seasons in the Majors. By all accounts Gordon should be able to handle the closer’s role for the foreseeable future though his success will depend on how often he’s used.

Gordon was used pretty heavily last season and responded with an All-Star season until coming up with a tired arm in August. He also missed some time during spring training to have his right arm checked out, which is nothing new. He missed the same amount of time during spring training of 2006 and bounced back fairly well.

Regardless, it appears as if Manuel is going to give Gordon every chance to hold onto the closer’s role. If he can’t do it, well, it appears as if there is a substitute waiting in for the call in the lower bullpen just beyond the center field fence.

“I don’t know if it’s a competition but let me put it this way I hope it’s a good setting for both of them because then we can have a strong bullpen,” Manuel said.

Thinking inside the box

Nobody likes a second-guesser or a Monday morning quarterback. Those types swoop in after the fact and offer a told-you-so type of opinion that really is quite gutless. Where were they on the first guess, is what I want to know. For those of us struggling with the first guess, we need all the help we can get. If the second-guessers are so smart, jump in and help out the first time.

Second guessing is unoriginal and boring. But sports-type people have dined out on it for decades. That said, let’s dish a little on the eighth and ninth innings of the Phillies’ inexplicable, 2-1 loss to the Reds, shall we?

What, you think we’re too good for second-guessing Charlie Manuel.

Ha!

Actually, my second guess is very simple and uncomplicated. I am, at heart, a simpleton – maybe even a little naïve, but that’s a different story. If something is broken, fix it. Otherwise, leave it alone. Simple.

But with Brett Myers, a starter for his entire career until two days ago, the manager Charlie Manuel was victimized by some compartmental thinking on Friday night in Cincinnati. By compartmental thinking we mean the set-up man pitches the eighth inning and the so-called closer pitches the ninth inning and never shall the two overlap. On Friday that thinking cost the Phillies the game.

Brett Myers should have pitched the eighth and the ninth innings on Friday. It’s as simple as that. Tom Gordon, the closer for now, has struggled all season long and admits that he is a bit behind because he took a week off during spring training to have his shoulder checked out. He also seems to rely much more on his fastball as opposed to his go-to curve.

Plus, Gordon struggled to get a save against the Nationals just the day before and since Manuel said he was reluctant to use the so-called closer on back-to-back days after he struggled during the second-half of 2006 because of overuse, it seemed like using Myers for two innings was logical.

Besides, who says a closer can only pitch the ninth? Under Manuel, Gordon pitched 59 1/3 innings in 59 games in 2006, while Billy Wagner worked 77 2/3 innings in 75 appearances. Clearly that shows that closers work just one inning for Manuel.

Brett Myers doesn’t have to be so limited. He was a workhorse starter just this week who averaged close to seven innings per outing during his career. So what does it hurt if he closes out a game by going two innings? Gordon’s ego, perhaps? Please. At 4-11 the Phillies are long past worrying about such trivialities. The point is if Myers is going to be moved to the bullpen to pacify Jon Lieber (who pitched rather well as a starter on Friday night – looks like he was “comfortable” after pouting his way back into the rotation), he should be used as a weapon instead of just a cog in the machine.

Asked about it after the loss to the Reds, Manuel told reporters: “Right now, Gordon is our closer. He’s been a closer. We signed him to be a closer. . . . That’s something we haven’t even discussed, and in some ways there’s no need to discuss it. We’ve got to get him sharp. The stuff is there.”

Joe Torre uses Mariano Rivera for two-inning saves from time to time. Rollie Fingers, Bruce Sutter, Lee Smith, Rich Gossage and Kent Tekulve (among others) pitched multiple innings as a matter of course during their work closing out games.

So why couldn’t Brett Myers do that on Friday night?

Deep thoughts…

Here’s an idea that will probably make a few people hold their heads as if they have a really bad migraine – you know, the kind where it pounds at the temples and feels as if someone or thing is shooting a low frequency wave through the skull that emits a shrill buzz in the inner ear – and question my sanity for such “unconventional” thinking.

I’m throwing it out there any way…

Maybe the Phillies should keep all of their starting pitchers. Yeah, that’s right, all Six. Before anyone goes crazy, here’s what I’d do – Cole Hamels, Freddy Garcia and Brett Myers would pitch every five days just like they customarily would in the square-boxed thinking that guides such things. Meanwhile, I’d try to figure out how to work it so that Jamie Moyer, Adam Eaton and Jon Lieber started at least one game a week and if there were too long of a lull between outings, I’m sure there would be some relief work available, too.

What?

Exactly. My guess is that Moyer, Eaton and Lieber would be perfect compliments to the top three starters and would be much more effective if they were used like a dash of seasoning instead of as a main course. Better yet, if the trio made one start per week over a 26-week season then they would be that much fresher when the stretch run approached. Besides, it seems to me that good baseball teams treat the season like a chess match or a golf game where the importance of a move or shot is to put one in position to have an even better move or shot the next time.

Hey, I’m not kidding myself by believing that any manager or team would go for something like this, but what the hell? It certainly isn’t convention thinking, but ideas have to come from somewhere. Right?

***
Meanwhile, it looks as if Tom Gordon’s achy shoulder is aching again.

Last season, as everyone remembers, Gordon broke down a bit and went on the disabled list in August despite a first half in which he earned a trip to the All-Star Game. At 39, the Phillies are concerned about over working their starter as evidenced by the fact that he’s appeared in just two Grapefruit League games and by the fact that they sent him back to Philadelphia for a checkup with team doctor Michael Ciccotti.

Before anyone jumps to any conclusions (how could they?), the team says the trip is simply for a routine checkup and it’s something that occurred last year at this time, too. But before anyone can say Mike Jackson, perhaps the Phillies ought to get another arm for the ‘pen to go along with Ryan Madson and Antonio Alfonseca.

Until that happens, be sure that Charlie Manuel sticks to his guns and allows Gordon just one inning per outing no back-to-back work early in the season.

Rowand and Gordon on D.L. II

Of all of the players that could have suffered a season-ending injury, Aaron Rowand’s might have the most dire affect on the Phillies’ lineup. Yeah, the Phillies say Rowand is only expected to miss 4-to-6 weeks with a broken ankle, but let’s not kid ourselves… it will be very difficult for Rowand to return to his typical pinball-style of play in centerfield this season.

Sure, it’s easy enough to simply plunk Shane Victorino into Rowand’s spot in center, but what about the bench? Surely, the Phillies aren’t nearly as fearsome with Danny Sandoval, Chris Roberson, Michael Bourn and Joe Thurston on the bench.

And what happens when the Phillies face a lefty? David Dellucci, who had been sitting out against left-handers, will now be forced to play every day regardless of pitching matchup. Surely Dellucci is capable and he came through with 29 home runs in a full-time role with the Texas Rangers last season, but 28 of those homers were hit against righties.

This season, two of Dellucci’s 12 homers have come off lefties. But aside from those two bombs, Dellucci has just one other hit against left-handers.

Then there is Rowand’s defense in center. It’s hard to find too many other players who go gap-to-gap as well as Rowand. Victorino is capable, and is a fun player to watch because of his energy, but he’s still a little raw.

Either way, Rowand’s style of play has already affected the team with two stints on the disabled list for running into things. An unpadded centerfield wall is one thing, but just think if Chase Utley would have been injured during Monday night’s collision.

Meanwhile, Gordon’s injury shouldn’t be too serious, but it is clear that the 38-year-old veteran needs more rest between outings after admitting that he has pitched with some pain since the All-Star break. That’s really not that big of a deal — Gordon just has to be used more judiciously by manager Charlie Manuel.