Inside the Phillies: Strange, but true: Phillies worry over starting pitching

The Phillies' John Mayberry Jr. takes a tumble after missing a fly ball to left in the sixth.
The Phillies' John Mayberry Jr. takes a tumble after missing a fly ball to left in the sixth. (JOHN AMIS / Associated Press)
Posted: July 29, 2012

ATLANTA - It was an odd but accurate statement.

Charlie Manuel sat inside the visitors dugout at Turner Field before Friday night's as-important-as-it-can-get-in-July game against the Atlanta Braves and contemplated what it would take for the Phillies to truly make a run at a postseason berth.

"I've been really thinking about that, especially since we started coming from behind and winning some games," the Phillies manager said before his team's 6-1 loss ended a four-game winning streak. "We got to get pitching. We talk about our bullpen - but starting pitching, we have to be a little bit better. We have to be better with our starting pitching."

Four months ago, when the Phillies started this disjointed journey with Roy Halladay throwing eight shutout innings against the Pittsburgh Pirates, the last thing you would have ever expected to hear from the manager just before the trade deadline was a plea for better starting pitching.

Manuel, of course, was not asking general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. to go get another starting pitcher before Tuesday's trade deadline.

Short of acquiring Justin Verlander from the Detroit Tigers, Amaro did the best thing he could possibly do for his starting rotation Wednesday. He signed Cole Hamels to a six-year, $144 million deal, assuring that the lefthander will be part of a rotation that also includes Halladay and Cliff Lee for the remainder of this season and at the start of next season.

The fact that those three combined will make more money next season ($64.5 million) than the entire payroll of six big-league teams this season - Tampa Bay, Pittsburgh, Kansas City, Houston, Oakland, and San Diego - does not bother Amaro or the Phillies in the least.

"As far as the pitchers' salaries are concerned, when you retain some of the best pitchers in the game, they're going to be costly," the general manager said Wednesday.

It's going to be risky, too.

No team, not even the New York Yankees, has ever invested this much money in three starting pitchers.

That's why it was so odd to hear the manager say two days after Hamels' megadeal that he needs his starting pitchers to step up if the Phillies' recent little run is to turn into something bigger and more meaningful.

He was absolutely right, and that's what is so frightening about all the money the Phillies have tied up in Hamels, Halladay, and Lee.

Hamels, who pitched for the first time Friday night since signing his deal, has been the best of the trio this season and, at 28, he is by far the youngest, too.

But even he has not been at his best during this trying season and that trend continued Friday night, when he walked a career-high six batters and threw more balls than strikes in five unsatisfactory innings.

The lefthander is 3-4 with a 4.21 ERA in his last 10 starts and the team is 3-7 in those outings.

"Obviously I didn't do my job," Hamels said after the game. "We'll find it. We've hit some rough patches, but [with] the caliber players we have, we'll be able to find it. I know it's a little more urgent to do it right now."

The problems encountered by Halladay and Lee have been well-documented.

Halladay had pitched with shoulder discomfort since early in spring training and eventually landed on the disabled list at the end of May. He's made two starts since returning from the disabled list, but neither has reminded us of the guy capable of pitching a perfect game or throwing a postseason no-hitter.

Manuel talked Friday about how the age monster appears to have devoured Placido Polanco's body after the third baseman landed on the disabled list again with a back injury.

Polanco is 36. Halladay is 35.

Halladay pitches in the series finale here Sunday. During the two-time Cy Young Award winner's first two seasons with the Phillies, a feeling would have permeated the clubhouse that the team was destined to win regardless of who was pitching for the other side. Now, the Phillies are in a wait-and-see mode with Halladay.

"I think right now it's too early for us to really tell because he went down to Clearwater [for a rehab start] and we got him back quick," Manuel said. "He's pitched twice. I think he's got to go out there probably two, three, four more times before you see the guy that can throw like he used to and also pinpoint his location off the chart. You would probably like to see his velocity jump up a little bit and his movement on his ball and for him to command the strike zone like he used to."

That's a long wish list.

And then there is one-win Lee. The Phillies need him to have a bounce-back second half and a much better 2013.

Amaro believes that is what will happen.

"Let me put it to you this way," Amaro said. "I'm confident this time next year and toward the end of this year, we're not going to have the same level of performance or results that we've had out of [Halladay and Lee]. It will be better. They are better than that. They're better than . . . what is it, five [combined] wins? They're better than that. That I am confident in. Very confident."

The general manager has more than 64.5 million reasons he has to be.


Contact Bob Brookover at bbrookover@phillynews.com. Follow on Twitter @brookob.

 

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