Inside the Phillies: Distant signs of hope for flailing Phillies

Posted: June 08, 2012

Hold on has such a dire connotation.

It's what you tell the guy hanging from a cliff by his fingernails. It's what you tell an accident victim gasping for air in the middle of a street. It's what you tell the outnumbered infantry when you can just make out the cavalry charging in from the horizon.

It's what you tell the Phillies at a time when their situation is becoming more and more calamitous.

Hold on is the only hope for this last-place team because it is a major mess, a fact that manager Charlie Manuel acknowledged after a 6-5 loss to the Los Angeles Dodgers on Wednesday night at Citizens Bank Park.

"Everything about our team is kind of whacked up," Manuel said after the Phillies' fifth consecutive loss pushed them to two games under .500 and six games behind the Washington Nationals in the National League East. "Sooner or later, it's going to be like the stock market and bottom out somewhere. We'll start working from there. Hopefully, that was tonight."

The three guys in red hats the Phillies hope will eventually ride to their rescue all made some news before Wednesday's game.

Chase Utley and Ryan Howard showed off their hitting strokes in an extended-spring-training game, and the long-awaited second opinion on Roy Halladay's strained right shoulder finally arrived.

It was good news all the way around for the Phillies. New York Mets team physician David Altchek, after examining a series of Halladay MRIs, agreed with the prognosis and rehabilitation procedure the Phillies had mapped out.

"We gave him one full week of rest," Phillies trainer Scott Sheridan said. "This week we started back with some rehabilitation exercises, and we've done very well with that so far. When we get to the three-week point, it's time to reevaluate, and hopefully at that time Roy is doing well, and we can begin doing some tossing."

Six to eight weeks was the original forecast, and that's what it remained Wednesday. Six weeks would bring him back right after the all-star break. Eight weeks would be right before the July 31 trade deadline.

Hold on was Halladay's message after explaining that he had issues repeating his arm slot and with his throwing program since the start of spring training, but he didn't feel any serious discomfort until his penultimate outing before landing on the disabled list late last month.

"I don't feel like anybody has really run away with it at this point," he said. "I'm going to be optimistic that we're still right there. I feel like even if we do have a little bit of ground to make up, I feel like we have a lot of guys that are going to be coming back. I feel like we have the guys that can overcome that."

How many games back are too many is open to question. The St. Louis Cardinals were 101/2 games behind in the wild-card race on Aug. 25 last year. You have to believe the July additions of Halladay, Utley, and Howard would at least allow the Phillies to make things interesting.

What Manuel would love to see was actually in full view at Bright House Field on Wednesday morning. It was a lineup with Utley and Howard. The two combined for four hits and three walks, including Utley's second home run in as many games.

After his team's latest loss, Manuel pointed out that the Phillies' cavalry is just mounting its horses and remains far from charging in.

"Those guys, they hit in a game today," he said. "They didn't play. There's a difference in that."

Still, bat hitting ball is the kind of progress the Phillies need to see from those two. How many teams in baseball would be willing to add Utley and Howard at the trade deadline if it did not cost them a single player or a single dollar?

That's the Phillies' deal when they return, and it's not a bad one even if you're rightfully skeptical about what they will be able to contribute.

"I do look forward to having them back," Manuel said.

Pitching coach Rich Dubee was cautious in his optimism about Halladay's return, but he is sure the effort put forth will make the best-case scenario the most likely one, too.

"If the program we have designed is what he needs, there is no doubt in my mind that this guy is going to do the work involved in it and that, if it goes accordingly, he will be Roy Halladay again," Dubee said.

Dubee admitted that the typically wicked movement on Halladay's pitches was missing during many of his 11 starts, and he is convinced that the problems were health related.

"I think that was probably 110 percent out of 100 percent of it," Dubee said. "We only had the good fortune of seeing him for a couple of springs . . . and every spring he generally came out and he pitched pretty close to game acceleration. I don't think he was able to get to that point."

In other words, we never saw the real Roy Halladay through the first two months of this season.

Now there's a decent chance we might for the final two months.

Hold on is the only message for the Phillies. Don't let those fingernails slip off the cliff.

Contact Bob Brookover at or follow on Twitter @brookob.


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