Manuel upset with offense in Phillies' loss to Mariners

Looking for his 10th win, Cole Hamels pitched well but had no help.
Looking for his 10th win, Cole Hamels pitched well but had no help. (Associated Press)
Posted: June 20, 2011

SEATTLE - By the time Charlie Manuel finished talking to reporters yesterday, you could almost see the bite marks on his lower lip. The Phillies manager will go to great lengths to avoid criticizing his team in public. But after watching 28-year-old journeyman Jason Vargas hand his offense a 2-0 loss at Safeco Field, Manuel seemed close to his threshold of self-restraint.

"Come again?" he said to a reporter who had asked him if he was pleased with his hitters' approach during Vargas' complete-game domination.

The reporter repeated the question.

"How many runs did we score?" Manuel asked rhetorically. None, he was told.

"How many hits did we get?" he asked. Three, he was told.

"Then I'm not very pleased with it," Manuel said flatly.

But was he surprised? That is probably a better question. In the Phillies' last 75 innings against lefthanded starters, they have managed exactly 17 runs. That's an average of about two runs every nine-inning game. That they have managed to win six of the 11 games against lefties during that stretch is a testament to the strength of their own pitching. Yesterday, though, strong pitching was not enough.

Cole Hamels turned in another dominant outing, holding the Mariners to two runs while striking out six and walking none in 6 innings. Other than a triple by rookie Dustin Ackley and couple of RBI bloopers that dropped in front of Michael Martinez in leftfield - one from Justin Smoak in the sixth, another from Adam Kennedy in the seventh - Hamels was just as effective as Vargas. But for the second time this season, he lost a game to a team that finished with two runs.

After the first inning, when Mariners leftfielder Greg Halman made a sprinting catch of a Ben Francisco blooper to strand runners on second and third, the Phillies never sniffed home plate. They had runners on first and second with one out in the fourth inning before Chone Figgins gloved a soft line drive from Raul Ibanez and then caught Carlos Ruiz lingering off first base for an inning-ending doubleplay. Otherwise, their only baserunners came via a two-out walk by Wilson Valdez in the second and a two-out single by Ryan Howard in the ninth, which snapped a string of 15 consecutive outs. After Howard reached, Francisco flied out to centerfield to end the game.

Granted, there were some tough breaks. Ackley's triple was one of the few honest hits the Mariners managed off Hamels. Ichiro Suzuki, who gave the Mariners a 1-0 lead in the sixth when he scored from second on Smoak's blooper, reached base only because a chopper he hit to the right side took a bad hop over Howard's glove and into rightfield.

But bad luck wasn't why the Phillies lost two out of three to the Mariners and fell to 45-28. They did so because of bad offense. In back-to-back games, Manuel saw the best and the worst that his streak lineup can offer. In a 5-1 win on Saturday night, the Phillies managed three runs and four extra-base hits against Felix Hernandez, an elite righthander who won the AL Cy Young last season. Then, yesterday, they managed just three singles in nine innings against Vargas, a middle-of-the-road lefty who has played for three teams in six big-league seasons.

"He mixed it up well," Howard said. "He didn't necessarily have to throw stuff for strikes. He threw it enough for strikes to where it kind of got us to get a little out of our element. Guys were out in front of pitches. But you've got to tip your hat. He threw well."

The good news is that the majority of the starters who pitch in the postseason are molded like Hernandez, a power-armed righthander who pitches off his fastball. The bad news is that the lefties who do make it that far are usually better than Vargas, who uses an array of offspeed pitches to compensate for his lack of velocity.

The last time the Phillies scored more than three runs against a southpaw of any caliber was on May 5, when they torched John Lannan for six runs in two innings in a win over the Nationals. Since then, lefty starters have combined to post a 1.44 ERA with 55 strikeouts in 75 innings. During that stretch, the Phillies have managed just 10 extra-base hits. Their last home run against a lefty starter came 42 innings ago, when Francisco connected for a two-run shot against Travis Wood in a 5-4 win over the Reds on May 25.

It might be a problem of personnel. Heading into yesterday's loss, only two regulars had a batting average above .256 or an OPS above .754 against lefties: Shane Victorino, who was hitting .381 with an .857 OPS, and Placido Polanco, who was hitting .352 with an .848 OPS but was given the day off. All 15 of Howard's home runs have come against righties. Jimmy Rollins is just 16-for-73 (.232) with three extra-base hits against lefties.

Said Manuel: "We need for our righthanded bats to definitely give us more against the lefties."

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