Phillies Notebook: Kaat praises efficient pitchers like Halladay, Lee

Last night's Phillies game snapped a streak of 14 straight games that were played in under three hours. (Yong Kim/Staff file photo)
Last night's Phillies game snapped a streak of 14 straight games that were played in under three hours. (Yong Kim/Staff file photo) (Jonathan Tannenwald)
Posted: April 19, 2011

Jim Kaat won 283 games in a big-league career that stretched from from 1959 to '83, which meant that his resilient left arm lasted a very long time. But despite authoring an incredible 180 complete games, the man known as "Kitty" wasn't much for dawdling on the mound. He worked quickly, as fast or faster than Hall of Famer Bob Gibson, another no-nonsense sort who threw strikes and went about his business as if he had an urgent appointment to keep.

The 72-year-old Kaat, now a broadcaster for the MLB Network, was at Citizens Bank Park last night and he was discussing why the Phillies so love having Roy Halladay and Cliff Lee as members of what increasingly is looking like one of the most imposing rotations in major league history.

In an era where the sub-3-hour game is as close to being extinct as the .400 hitter and 30-game winner probably are, Halladay and Lee are throwbacks to a time when pitchers - the really good ones, anyway - would finish what they started in around the same time it takes to watch a movie not starring Charlton Heston.

Halladay and Lee are also reasons, Kaat believes, why the Phillies went into last night's game against Milwaukee leading the NL with only five errors committed thus far, just one by an infielder.

"No question, it's a big advantage to the defense," Kaat, who was with the Phillies from 1976-79, said of efficient pitchers like Halladay and Lee. "If you find a pitcher that works fast and throws strikes, the fielders behind him are going to be more on their toes.

"When I was broadcasting Yankees games, David Wells had a lot of spectacular plays made behind him. Now, the Yankees were a good team anyway, but fielders anticipated the ball was going to be thrown for a strike when Wells was out there. They were always ready to react. But when the count is always going to 3-1, 3-2, and the pitcher is walking around the mound all the time, the fielders aren't on their toes as much."

Kaat, a 16-time Gold Glove winner, said there are reasons why quick-working pitchers have become a rarity. "They go to the mound and, in my opinion, overthink the situation," he said. "But guys like Halladay and Lee, they know what they want to do. They're very confident, they get the ball and they execute."

Even the Halladays and the Lees, however, can't get a game finished in under 2 1/2 hours, though, without some help from the guys with the unenviable job of trying to hit off them.

"You've got hitters constantly stepping out of the box to readjust their gloves and their wristbands," Kaat said. "They look down at the coach even when there's no situation for a sign.

"Years ago, hitters never stepped out of the box. They'd move a foot and were ready to go. And there are more television breaks now, too."

Bashing ball OK, too

Was it so very long ago that the Phillies lineup was the NL's equivalent of a Murderers' Row? In 2009, four players - Ryan Howard, Chase Utley, Raul Ibanez and Jayson Werth - all cranked 30 or more home runs.

Werth is now a member of the Washington Nationals, Utley is on the disabled list and Howard and Ibanez have only four dingers between them. What was Murderers' Row seems to be engaging in small-ball death by a thousand cuts.

Charlie Manuel disputes convenient designations of his Phillies teams, past and present.

"I hear how we're playing 'small-ball,' but we used to play both," the manager said. "I don't think people even realize that. We'd manufacture runs even when we were hitting a lot of home runs. Bunting is a part of it, but we didn't have to bunt. We'd get [Shane] Victorino and [Jimmy] Rollins on and they'd steal second, even third sometimes. Jayson Werth and Utley were the same way. We always had runners in scoring position.

"We don't want to score just one or two runs," he added. "I'd like to score 20 a night. Not only do I want to beat you, I want to beat you bad. If we can beat you by 25 runs, that's what I want."

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