Rest for Phillies? Manuel looks to keep them sharp

The Phillies have more games remaining than days remaining in the regular season. (Ron Cortes/Staff Photographer)
The Phillies have more games remaining than days remaining in the regular season. (Ron Cortes/Staff Photographer)
Posted: September 07, 2011

It would be a no-brainer for Andy Reid. When the postseason is at stake, the Eagles head coach takes every opportunity to rest key players, especially those who are banged up.

For Charlie Manuel, it's, well, a brainer. His team has a chance to clinch the National League East and home-field advantage with time to spare. His entire starting infield, which has been the strongest part of his lineup for years, has injury issues. Meanwhile, the weather has made as much a mess of the schedule as it has of area basements.

Even before the weekly deluge delayed Tuesday night's game with the second-place Atlanta Braves, the Phillies had more games than days remaining in the regular season. That forces Manuel to deal with doubleheaders and zero off days while trying to prime his pitchers for the playoffs and keep his regulars in rhythm without overworking them.

"This is a repetition game," Manuel said. "You've got to stay sharp."

Last year, the Phillies swept the Cincinnati Reds in the division series. They had five days off before Game 1 of the NL Championship Series. They spent those days working out, taking batting practice. But maybe, Manuel implied, that had something to do with the Phillies' poor offensive performance against the Giants.

"We didn't get game at-bats," Manuel said. "That's what counts. You can take all the BP you want. The ball's coming faster in the game. You're getting breaking balls and cutters and sliders. BP helps your approach, but timing comes from the games.

"If you get a break of four or five days or a week, that can affect your offense. It can affect your defense, too."

Once the Phillies have clinched all they can clinch, then maybe Manuel will spread some days off around. Until then? "We're going to keep right on playing," Manuel said.

So Ryan Howard and his sore foot were in the lineup against the Braves. So was Chase Utley and his knee. So was Placido Polanco, whose balky back prompted the Phillies to call up infielder Pete Orr from the minors. Only shortstop Jimmy Rollins, whose sore groin has him on the disabled list, was missing.

Howard, who takes the term everyday player literally, was sanguine about the situation. His left foot has been bothering him for about a month and would definitely benefit from some rest, he said. But he expects to see his name in the cleanup spot on the big lineup board in the clubhouse.

"Unless I'm in the hospital or whatever, I try to be out there," Howard said. "A couple days off would do a lot. That would all come down to Chuck."

Manuel is too much of an old-school baseball guy to take anything for granted until it is clinched.

"The Mets had big fat leads there two years in a row, too," Manuel said. "The California Angels had a hell of a lead there one year. They sold programs and everything. They had to go back and recall them."

That was 1995, when a nine-game losing streak in mid-September contributed to the Angels' epic collapse. As long as horror stories like that haunt his dreams, Manuel is going to write Howard's name on his lineup until there's an asterisk signifying "clinched division title" next to the Phillies name in the standings.

All the long days at the ballpark, made longer by rain delays, and the looming doubleheaders add to the physical strain. Giving Howard or Utley one game of a doubleheader isn't the same as giving them a day off. They're still playing. And the loss of a couple scheduled off days makes everything more complicated.

"I was wondering if anybody's ever seen anything like this where September has stacked up the way it has," Howard said. "We have 33 games in 31 days or something like that. You never know what's going to happen next. Mother Nature has definitely been acting up. It's just something you have to deal with."

It's either one fluky summer or a harbinger of what climate change is going to bring. If it's the latter, baseball teams may want to invest in retractable domes.

The weather has created havoc for teams all over baseball. But few of them have as much at stake as the Phillies. Opening big leads for the division title and home-field advantage was supposed to earn them an edge. They should be able to use the last week or so to set up their rotation and selectively rest regulars.

Instead, the Phillies are on a forced march with no rest until the regular season ends. October will tell whether it wears them down or keeps them sharp. They don't have much choice.

"You know what they do in Virginia when it rains?" Manuel asked. "They let it rain."


Contact Phil Sheridan at 215-854-2844, psheridan@phillynews.com, or @Sheridanscribe on Twitter. Read his blog, "Philabuster," at http://go.philly.com/philabuster. Read his past columns at http://go.philly.com/philsheridan.

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