Are Phils really ready to win?

There is a difference between being ready for the season to start and being ready to start winning, Manuel says.

Posted: March 30, 2007

BRADENTON, Fla. - Charlie Manuel has talked often this spring about the difference between being ready to start the season and being ready to win once the season starts.

The Phillies haven't won the last two Aprils.

Manuel needs this one to be different.

"We're ready. We've got to be ready," he said yesterday after a 5-5 tie with the Pittsburgh Pirates at McKechnie Field in the team's final Grapefruit League game before it heads to Philadelphia for a pair of exhibitions, tonight and tomorrow against the Boston Red Sox at Citizens Bank Park. "I think we're ready to start winning."

The Phillies took a flight home yesterday evening with an 11-16-3 record in Florida, but they had won three of their last five. There have been bright spots this spring, and there have been concerns. Here's a look at some of them:

Chase Utley and Greg Dobbs. Spring-training numbers aren't supposed to matter. But Utley and Dobbs left Florida with slugging percentages that are at least 200 points higher than their career marks.

Sabermetrician John Dewan's research has found that the 200 mark often indicates a good season, if that player has a minimum of 200 career at-bats and at least 35 spring at-bats. Utley's slugging this spring is .746, compared with his .509 career mark. Dobbs' slugging is .667, compared to his .351 career mark.

It's OK to be skeptical, but Dewan's formula predicted that Ryan Howard would have an incredible season last year.

Jimmy Rollins. He is hitting .386 with a .493 on-base percentage. He has walked a team-high 12 times. "He's definitely been working the count, which he started in the middle of last season," Manuel said. "He's carrying over his work into the spring, and he's getting better at it. I think hitting the ball hard today was good for him."

Howard, Pat Burrell and Aaron Rowand. Each has struggled this spring, but Manuel isn't worried about any of them - especially Howard. Howard and Burrell looked good hitting back-to-back home runs off Pirates righthander Shawn Chacon in the third inning.

"He's all right," Manuel said about Howard, who crushed the ball to right field. "That one got some attention, didn't it? He hit it pretty hard. I think one swing can change the whole outlook of things sometimes. It's what makes you feel good. It's what gives you confidence.

"What about Pat? Pat hit one."

The rotation. "I feel like our rotation with [Brett] Myers and [Cole] Hamels at the top has a chance to be very good," Manuel said. "That can be one of the keys to our rotation. I think that things will fall in place if those two guys can have real good years for us."

Ryan Madson. He has a 1.86 earned run average in eight appearances and will open the season as closer Tom Gordon's set-up man. "We need somebody to step up in the bullpen, and this gives Madson a good chance," Manuel said. "People have been waiting the last couple of years, and he has a chance this year to have a big season for us. This will be good for him. Right now, I like Madson in that role. He deserves a chance. He definitely should have a shot. And I mean a good chance. I'm not talking about putting him out there one or two days."

Tom Gordon. He has a 1.17 ERA in eight appearances, but the Phillies have been very careful with him. Is he ready? "He's very close," Manuel said. "He stands a good chance of being ready to go." Gordon allowed two hits in a scoreless eighth inning.

Manuel said he was eager to start the season Monday against the Atlanta Braves.

"I'm ready," he said. "Our guys are starting to get antsy about starting the season. That's a good sign."

Phillies 5, Pirates 5

Howard (.226) went 2 for 3 with a homer in yesterday's game, which was called after nine innings. . . . Burrell (.222) went 1 for 3 with a homer. . . . Michael Bourn (.283) had two steals in three tries. He is 8 for 9 in stolen-base attempts this spring. . . . Righthander Geoff Geary (2.61 ERA) allowed one hit in two scoreless innings. . . . Lefthander Matt Smith (8.18 ERA) struck out one batter in a perfect sixth inning. . . . Righthander Antonio Alfonseca (5.40 ERA) threw a scoreless seventh.

Help for the bullpen?

The Phillies are one of three teams to have made a trade offer for Toronto relief pitcher Francisco Rosario.

Club officials scouted the 26-year-old righthander in Dunedin this week, but there doesn't appear to be a fit and a trade is unlikely, a source said last night.

Extra bases

Righthander Jon Lieber, who is out with a strained right abdominal muscle, will remain in Florida for rehabilitation. . . . Catcher Chris Coste, who has a strained right hamstring, will remain in Florida to get at-bats in minor-league games. He is expected to rejoin the team this weekend. . . . Righthander Freddy Garcia, who has right biceps tendinitis, will travel with the team to Philadelphia and continue his throwing program there. . . . Lefthander Cole Hamels will start tonight against Boston. He will face lefthander Julian Tavarez. . . . Righthander Adam Eaton will go against the Red Sox tomorrow afternoon. He faces righthander Daisuke Matsuzaka. . . . Four minor-leaguers will accompany the Phillies north from Clearwater: infielder Carlos Leon, and righthanders Kyle Kendrick, Julio De La Cruz and Ryan Cameron. . . . The 25-man roster must be set by 3 p.m. Sunday.
Contact staff writer Todd Zolecki at 215-854-4874 or tzolecki@phillynews.com.

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