Paul Hagen: Dobbs is first casualty in Phillies' battle against complacency

Jimmy Rollins acknowledges fans when he is introduced as the starting shortstop after a stint on the disabled list.
Jimmy Rollins acknowledges fans when he is introduced as the starting shortstop after a stint on the disabled list.
Posted: June 23, 2010

THERE ARE reasons why Greg Dobbs has been consigned to baseball purgatory, practical and tangible and easy-to-put-your-finger-on reasons.

Such as that shortstop Jimmy Rollins went from the disabled list to the starting lineup last night, but the strained calf that has sidelined him most of the season is unpredictable. Trying to stash either Wilson Valdez or Juan Castro in the minors as an insurance policy would have been to risk losing him altogether. The Phillies weren't willing to take that gamble.

Such as that Dobbs' primary role was as a pinch-hitter and he had a solitary hit and two RBI to show for 25 at-bats in that capacity. Such as that Ross Gload also is a lefthanded pinch-hit specialist.

Still, it was a mild shock that it was Dobbs who was designated for assignment yesterday in a flurry of activations, recalls, disablements and optional assignments. He set a franchise record for pinch-hits in 2008, contributing to a world championship. But that was then and this is now and the Phillies have 10 days to figure out what to do with him.

Which is why the Phillies might get an unintended bounce from the decision.

Look, nobody's suggesting that Ryan Howard or Chase Utley or Roy Halladay or Cole Hamels or Rollins is going to look at what happened and think, "OMG, if we don't start winning some games, I could be next." The star players who will ultimately determine whether the Phillies come out of their funk pretty much have immunity. Some have no-trade clauses. All have big contracts that are difficult to move.

But it could still be a nudge, a shot across the bow to a team that had lost 19 of 30 games before eking out a 2-1 win over the last-place Indians at Citizens Bank Park. A not-so-subtle reminder that they are in a results-based profession and that not living up to expectations can have consequences.

"I don't know if it sends a signal. That wasn't necessarily the reason why we did it," general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. said. "But I think guys know that we expect people to perform. And I've said this before. Guys are paid to perform and do their best. And I know they're trying to do their best. Sometimes you have to make moves that are uncomfortable."

Sometimes making the players just a tiny bit uncomfortable, too, can be a good thing.

Manager Charlie Manuel has worried out loud more than once recently about complacency creeping into a team that has won three straight division titles and been to the World Series each of the last two postseasons.

Some thought it was a bad omen that the Phillies blew a five-run lead going into the ninth against the Twins last Saturday. That misses the point. Every club has to deal with gut-wringing losses during the course of the season. What seems different is how the Phillies responded. In the past few seasons, they tended to rebound strongly. This year they've more often curled into the fetal position. Minnesota's Carl Pavano and Cleveland's Mitch Talbot and Kerry Wood have held them to a grand total of three runs on eight hits in the two games since.

Resiliency? In 2009 the Phillies won seven games when they trailed after seven innings and four when they were behind after eight. So far this season, approaching the mathematical midpoint: one and one.

So a roster move that zigs unexpectedly instead of zagging as anticipated has to at least catch the attention of everybody in uniform, no matter how much security they have.

And while nothing is imminent - it's still only June, after all - the general manager didn't rule out having to make even more uncomfortable decisions at some point before it gets too late.

That's interesting. Because in the past, Amaro has generally scoffed at the idea of making changes just for the sake of shaking things up. Now he seems willing to at least consider the notion.

"Is there a time to do that? There might be," he said. "I can't say unequivocally that we won't make a move just to make a move. You'd prefer not to get to that point. But the moves that need to be made are the performances on the field, really. You need the guys to perform and play the way we know that they can play.

"And if they don't, then it's my job to try to make some adjustments. We're all kind of in this together, but it's my job to make adjustments so that we do play the way we're supposed to."

Sometimes shuffling the deck works even though, on paper, it appears to be a step backward. The Phillies were 47-54 when they traded Bobby Abreu just ahead of the deadline in 2006. It was a white flag and a salary dump. Except that it opened up playing time for the speed and energy of Shane Victorino and Michael Bourn. It allowed Rollins to take more of a leadership role. And the Phillies went 38-23 the rest of the way.

Intended or not, pushing Dobbs aside can be viewed as serving notice to the clubhouse that the patience of Amaro and Manuel is not unlimited. And that unless the situation improves, the next move could be significant enough to register on the Richter scale.

Send e-mail to hagenp@phillynews.com

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