Bob Ford: Manuel on using Blanton, Happ: 'Trying to win'

"Sometimes those are chances you have to take," said Charlie Manuel of the moves.
"Sometimes those are chances you have to take," said Charlie Manuel of the moves.
Posted: October 09, 2009

The fire drill began early in the Phillies' bullpen yesterday and the phone out there might still be ringing just from habit.

"Kitchen sink," Chad Durbin said, describing the relief pitching philosophy pursued by Charlie Manuel as he tried to keep his team close in what eventually became a 5-4 loss to the Colorado Rockies.

The NL division series is tied at one game apiece now as it shifts to Denver, and the real fallout from yesterday's frantic machinations won't be known until the teams resume the festivities in Coors Field tomorrow night in a game as cold as the Rockies.

The mountains, that is.

Before the afternoon had slipped into early evening yesterday, the Phillies used six relievers, including two pitchers who were among the possibilities to start Game 3.

Joe Blanton threw 19 pitches and said he can still start tomorrow night. J.A. Happ threw just four pitches, took a hard shot off the left shin, and also said he can take the start. Pedro Martinez, the third option, didn't pitch yesterday and said he expects the next start to be given to him.

Other than that, there's no confusion at all.

"We concentrated on this one, and when we get to Saturday, we'll concentrate on Saturday," said Durbin, who answered the first bell yesterday, getting up in the top of the fifth as starter Cole Hamels struggled through what would be his final inning of work.

By the end, Durbin warmed up "three and a half" times by his own count but didn't enter the game. Neither did regular relievers Kyle Kendrick or Brad Lidge, but Manuel made use of everyone else who was available.

"Sometimes those are the chances you have to take," Manuel said. "I was making moves out there that if I could have picked some other things to do, I would have probably did it."

The Phillies set themselves up for this possibility when they put Happ and Blanton, who have been arguably the team's most effective starters in the last month, in the bullpen for the first two games of this series and perhaps beyond.

They ran the risk that one or both could get into a game and pitch themselves out of a potential start down the line. Manuel appeared ready to do that with Happ yesterday. He brought him into the game with one out in the seventh inning and made a double switch to protect him in the batting order, meaning Manuel intended to pitch Happ in the eighth inning as well.

Blanton had already pitched his stint, and whether he is still a viable starter for tomorrow night depends on how he recovers from warming up and coming into the game for those 19 pitches. As the Phillies boarded their charter to Denver last night, they still didn't know.

"We were kind of taken aback a little bit when both starters got used," said lefthander Scott Eyre, who took over when Happ was injured and had to leave the game. "That just means that Pedro's starting Game 3, I guess. Or Blanton could come back. Or Happ got hit on the shin; he could come back. You just don't know."

In a way, this is the nature of the postseason, but it is also playing fast and loose with the rotation, which is the bedrock of winning baseball any time of the year. If Blanton isn't as effective as he might have been, if Martinez gets the start by default and continues his recent struggles, if Happ is bothered by the knot on his push-off leg, then the risks weren't worth it. The Phillies managed this game as if they were behind in the series instead of ahead, lost anyway, and now the repercussions of it put them in a perilous spot.

"I was trying to win the game," Manuel said, "and I felt like we definitely had a run left in us. If things had worked out like [pitching coach] Rich Dubee and I had them planned. . . . Happ might have stayed longer than Blanton. At the same time, Blanton worked and he'll be fine. He definitely could be ready on Saturday if that's what we choose. Of course, with Happ injured, I'll just have to wait and see where he's at."

If Happ had not been in the bullpen, where he would certainly be is on the mound tomorrow night, another effective lefthander to throw at Colorado's lefty-averse lineup. Instead, it might be a slightly arm-weary Blanton or an aging pitcher with a sore neck and no good starts for a month.

"That's how you've got to play it sometimes," Manuel said.

Perhaps, but not with a series lead, and not with a team built to make a deep run in the playoffs. Sometimes you have to play it that way, but this wasn't one of those times.


Contact columnist Bob Ford

at 215-854-5842

or bford@phillynews.com.

Read his blog

at http://philly.com/postpatterns.

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