Phillies, Manuel roll dice with Pedro

RON CORTES / Staff photographer
RON CORTES / Staff photographer
Posted: October 16, 2009

LOS ANGELES - If it works out, if Pedro Martinez pitches well, it will only buff Charlie Manuel's reputation as a baseball savant to a high luster.

If it explodes, if it blows up in his face like a trick cigar and the Phillies are eventually eliminated, it's a decision that the manager will be questioned about for the rest of his baseball life.

Manuel could have started righthander Joe Blanton in Game 2 of the National League Championship Series today at Dodger Stadium and, no matter what happened, he wouldn't have been second-guessed. Ditto lefthander J.A. Happ.

There's no other way to say it. Opting for the 37-year-old Martinez, who hasn't pitched under game conditions since Sept. 30 - and hasn't pitched well since a 130-pitch effort against the Mets on Sept. 13 - is a huge risk despite his big-game credentials.

Manuel indicated that he made his call based largely on a simulated game that Martinez threw Tuesday at Citizens Bank Park.

"He was throwing the ball very good. He was throwing pretty hard and his command was good and he's had enough rest and experience and everything," the manager explained. "I feel like this is where he started [his big-league career in 1992, with the Dodgers], this is a good ballpark for him. He likes the moment."

Martinez, whose scheduled start in Game 3 of the Division Series at Colorado was snowed out, didn't seem certain the simulated game would be an adequate substitute.

"I'm going to have to take that for now because there wasn't any time to do anything else,'' he said. "I guess I'm going to have to rely on whatever I was able to do, and I just had two innings of BP to [Eric] Bruntlett and [Greg] Dobbs."

He added that he wasn't satisfied with his command, but that he expects it to be much improved by this afternoon.

Both manager and player, by the way, believe that his extended outing against the Mets in a nationally televised Sunday night game against the Mets was not the reason he was subsequently injured and made just two more starts, allowing 13 hits in seven innings and compiling a 7.71 earned run average. Instead, they say, he was injured while swinging the bat during his next start at Atlanta.

"Everybody thought it was my neck but in reality, after seeing a chiropractor, it was one of my ribs popped out," he said. "He said that it's something really common. You can actually pop one of your ribs out sneezing. But it's something that had never happened to me. Everything on the right side stiffened up. But after adjusting my rib and putting it back in place, I felt fine. Everything is back to normal."

Manuel acknowledged that there has been a "backlash" against his decision to allow Martinez to throw that many pitches.

"But I don't think it was that big [a factor in what happened afterward]. I don't think it was that great," he said. "When he swung the bat [and was injured], I think that's what set him back."

He added that Martinez should be capable of throwing 75 to 95 pitches "and depending on how good he is, that could get us into the sixth, seventh inning."

If Martinez has to depart early, that's where Blanton and Happ could come in.

Martinez made his major league debut with Los Angeles at Dodger Stadium 17 years ago, so today's start has added meaning for him. "I was born in this place," he said. "I hope this is not the last one I pitch here but, if it is, it would be a great joy to actually do it in the same place I started."

And, even if the decision to start him backfires, he won't be among those who will second-guess.

"Charlie is probably going to go to any source he can find to fill up the spaces and get the best matchups out there to give the team a good chance to win," he said. "I can relate to that. As far as pitching, I understand and I totally understand what he wants to do."

Manuel confirmed that Cliff Lee will start Game 3 at Citizens Bank Park on Sunday night. The Game 4 starter will be determined by how Manuel is forced to deploy Blanton and Happ in the first two games.

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