Charlie Manuel voices frustrations over Phillies lineup

Charlie Manuel will often say he is "concerned" about an issue his team faces. He said it again Sunday. (David M Warren/Staff Photographer)
Charlie Manuel will often say he is "concerned" about an issue his team faces. He said it again Sunday. (David M Warren/Staff Photographer) (Jonathan Tannenwald)
Posted: March 21, 2011

CLEARWATER, Fla. - In a week, the Phillies will play their final Grapefruit League game, jump on a bus to the team charter plane, and return to Philadelphia. The questions - and there are many - that Charlie Manuel has about his offense will not be answered in a week's time.

The manager will often say he is "concerned" about an issue his team faces. He said it again Sunday. What his players and those who interact with Manuel on a daily basis say is best about his style is the ability to avoid overreaction.

But all it took was a lazy Florida afternoon that felt like summer with the Yankees making the short trip over the Courtney Campbell Causeway to make Manuel wonder.

"Execution is big," he said. "Like, watch the Yankees. [Brett] Gardner hooked a hole. Gardner's a little guy, a speed guy. He knows how to play. He gets up, guy throws him a fastball out away from him. I saw him move closer to the plate and hook the ball like that" - Manuel then demonstrated with his hands - "and snatched the hole over there. Base hit, guy goes to third."

Actually, Gardner's seventh-inning single merely advanced catcher Russell Martin to second, and that just made Manuel's impromptu story even more telling. He saw the Yankees put up eight runs on his team in a meaningless spring training game and it caused him to assess his own offense, which scored just once.

What he sees is uncertainty, a great deal more than Manuel's Phillies teams are accustomed to at this point.

"We're trying to find our lineup," Manuel said. "I ain't seen anyone torque it yet. I see guys hit some every now and then."

So, exactly how concerned is Manuel as he prepares for life without Jayson Werth and the injured Chase Utley?

"Well, we're missing the three- and five-hole hitter," Manuel said. "Two guys who had .400 on-base percentage. One guy, if he's well, hit 25 to 30 home runs. He hits .300 when he's healthy, knocks in 100 runs and scores over 100. Our fifth-hole hitter was a guy who knocked in 90 to 100 runs and has a .400 on-base percentage and steals some bags and plays good defense."

Realizing he hadn't directly answered the question, Manuel stopped talking and laughed. It was good enough.

"We have to have someone who can help us hold our own there," Manuel said. "Those are two important spots in the lineup."

Twenty-four Grapefruit League games have not yielded everyday players at second base and right field, Manuel said. To replace Utley, the Phillies will likely sacrifice offense for defense. In right, Ben Francisco could receive the majority of playing time, but Manuel has restated his idea of a platoon over the last few days.

The manager was asked what Francisco, who is hitting .333 (16 for 48) this spring, must do to become a regular.

"I need to see more consistency," Manuel said. "I need to see him play in the outfield more. I haven't seen him enough in the outfield yet."

All spring Manuel has experimented with his lineup in search of a third and fifth hitter. Even if he comes up with a combination he likes, this Phillies team will have to rely on the home run far less than previous ones.

That, along with the Phillies performance in the six-game National League Championship Series, has prompted a call for better situational baseball from Manuel's lineup. The manager bristled at that Sunday.

"When we were really good, we didn't have to bunt," Manuel said. "We didn't have to hit-and-run. We could steal second and we could steal third at times.

"People talk about us playing 'little ball.' . . . We've always been able to play 'little ball.' Explain what 'little ball' really is. 'Little ball' is called 'execution' to me. A team that can manufacture runs. And we used to be very good at that."

And now?

"When we don't have the lineup we used to have," Manuel said, "we have to go try and find something that's close to that."

The way Manuel talks, that search will continue well beyond opening day.


Contact staff writer Matt Gelb at mgelb@phillynews.com.

Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/magelb

 

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