Harmony no problem for Phillies' Four Aces

Brett Cecil: Jays pitchers were in awe of Roy Halladay.
Brett Cecil: Jays pitchers were in awe of Roy Halladay.
Posted: March 04, 2011

THERE IS NO known scientific data available supporting the theory that the rotation that grins together wins together. From all outward appearances, though, the Phillies' starters seem committed to giving the concept a pretty good test drive.

The first sign might have been when the Fab Four insisted on including fifth starter Joe Blanton in their combination mass news conference and coronation that kicked off spring training.

Since then, clues have been found everywhere. When it was time for the pitchers who wouldn't be used in the Grapefruit League opener to head for the clubhouse, Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee, Roy Oswalt and Cole Hamels all walked down the leftfield line at Bright House Field together. Blanton, who started that game, followed right behind.

On four occasions, they had to stick around after an early workout for photo shoots with Sports Illustrated, the New York Times, Phillies Magazine and USA Today. They could have grumbled - How many times do we have to do this, anyway? - but from all accounts had fun with it and used it as an opportunity to bond even further.

They did group interviews for MLB Network, CSN Philly and the New York Times. For the MLB, they also taped a segment playing golf with John Smoltz that is scheduled to air next week.

Each morning at Bright House Field they sit at a table in the middle of the clubhouse looking for all the worlds like royals surveying their kingdom.

All of which is warm and fuzzy and stuff. But the real question is: Does this really have any impact at all on making the team better?

Well, it certainly can't hurt. One of the bonuses of getting Jamie Moyer in 2006 was his willingness to mentor younger pitchers. The television cameras constantly caught him giving advice. And, yes, that matters.

Even the best pitchers in baseball have their insecurities, fall into ruts, are always looking for tips on improving their game. That support can come from a number of sources, including the pitching coach, but also seems to carry extra weight when it comes from a respected peer.

Coincidentally, some comments made by Blue Jays lefthander Brett Cecil recently helped confirm the importance of good communication among the starters by noting that it was difficult for the unproven pitchers to get comfortable around Cy Young Award winner Halladay when he pitched for Toronto.

Cecil was careful to make it clear that he wasn't criticizing Halladay. But he said that sometimes the other starters were so in awe of his accomplishments that it made it difficult to approach him. Now the Jays have a bunch of 20-somethings competing for spots.

"It makes those bad games go a little easier when you have somebody to talk to about it," he told the Toronto Sun. "I hate to bring up [Halladay's] name and I don't mean it in any disrespectful way, but with Doc, when us young guys would have a bad game, we didn't feel like we could go talk to him about it. At least, I didn't.

"I never felt like I could go and have an in-depth conversation about pitching with him . . . But now, having a bunch of young guys growing together, we can go to each other and explain: 'This is why I did this. What would you have done in that situation?' We just pick each other's brain, left and right."

The dynamic is different in Philadelphia, of course. Each of the Phillies' starters is older and more established, each has at least one Opening Day start on his resume, each has the security of a lucrative long-term contract.

Still, it's not a stretch to suggest that the closer they are, the closer the Phillies will be to achieving their goals this season.


 * Byrd brain: The Cubs began using organ music as players stepped to the plate in 1948, the first team to do that. The 69-year-old tradition ended last season when an "unnamed player" asked for taped music to help him get out of his slump. That player has finally 'fessed up: Former Phillie Marlon Byrd acknowledged he asked for the change. The Cubs haven't decided whether to go back to organ music this season.

* Is that the hit sign? New Mets general manager Sandy Alderson noted recently that stolen bases are little more than a footnote when it comes to winning games. Since shortstop Jose Reyes is a potential free agent and since stolen bases are a big part of his game, that has left some wondering whether Alderson is already setting the stage to trade Reyes before the deadline or let him walk at the end of the season.

* Trivia time: This just in from old pal Doug Kelly. Who's the only current major leaguer who was active in the 1980s?

* Different as day and night: The Rangers would like American League MVP Josh Hamilton to play about 145 games this year, reasoning that giving him periodic rests might help him avoid some of the injuries that have plagued his career. So far, manager Ron Washington has resisted the idea of holding Hamilton out of day games although his batting average and OPS (.254, .762) are much lower under the sun than they are (.330, .967) at night, but could change his mind.

* Dirty baseball: According to the New York Times, the Mets had 44,000 pounds of dark brown clay trucked from central Pennsylvania to their training site in Port St. Lucie, Fla. because they wanted the players to practice on the same surface as Citi Field. Reportedly, the team split the cost with St. Lucie County.

* There's just one problem: Reds manager Dusty Baker said recently that the Reds could possibly sign Albert Pujols if the Cardinals slugger becomes a free agent at the end of the season. Then he added the punch line: "But we'd only have eight other players."

* Speed bump: Free-spirited White Sox catcher A.J. Pierzynski decided to skip the team bus and drive himself to Wednesday's exhibition game. In full uniform. So when he was stopped for speeding, he was amused when the policeman observed, "Oh, you play for the White Sox?"

* Trivia answer: White Sox third baseman Omar Vizquel.


 * Gracias, amigo: Here's just another example of how much Roy Halladay likes pitching to Carlos Ruiz. The Phillies' Cy Young Award winner taped a commercial for an MLB 2K11 commercial that pays homage to Chooch. It begins with him talking about pitch control and his perfect game, then segues into him saying he couldn't have done it without Ruiz. "In the offseason, I kind of miss him," Halladay says. Then the video cuts to a plastic blowup doll of Ruiz sitting on the couch next to him. He then proceeds to ask the replacement Ruiz for his advice on what to eat, what shirt to wear and, of course, what pitch to throw while playing the video game. Funny stuff. Check it out at: http://www.facebook.com/l/3eba7gpxP--ny-foFdwdefU4CMg/www.youtube.com/watch?v=_vrACj_SpAY. Or just go to YouTube and type "roy halladay pitch control" into the search line.

* Wanna bet? Sportsbook.com has some interesting proposition wagers involving Phillies and former Phillies. Here are the over-unders, with all stats limited to regular season only:

Hits for Chase Utley, 158.5

Home runs for Ryan Howard, 37.5

Wins for the Four Aces, 59.5

Wins for Roy Halladay, 17.5

Wins for Cliff Lee, 15.5

Wins for Cole Hamels, 14.5

Wins for Roy Oswalt, 13.5

Home runs for Jayson Werth, 22.5

Thanks to reader Franco DiMartino for pointing this out.

* Turnover is fair play: The Phillies have only six players left who have appeared in all four of their postseasons since 2007: Carlos Ruiz, Ryan Howard, Chase Utley, Jimmy Rollins, Shane Victorino and Cole Hamels.

* D-day: Chad Durbin made $2.125 million for the Phillies last year. He signed with the Indians recently for $800,000, leaving the impression that he had somehow made an expensive mistake while negotiating last winter. Maybe he did. But without knowing what offers he might have turned down, there's no way of knowing for sure. If all the offers topped out at around what he ended up signing for, that's apparently what his market was. Remember, J.C. Romero took a cut from $4 million in 2010 to $1.35 million this year to come back.

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