5 more burning Phillies questions

Posted: February 13, 2013

CLEARWATER, Fla. - The wait it almost over. Spring is near.

Spring training, that is.

With pitchers and catchers scheduled for their first workout on Wednesday, the Phillies have no shortage of questions to answer.

On Monday, we talked about the respective roads Roy Halladay, Ryan Howard and Chase Utley have to navigate to return from injury-ravaged seasons and about the adjustments both Youngs - Michael and Delmon - will have to make from designated hitters to full-time fielders.

Here are five more burning questions:

1 Can new setup reliever Mike Adams stay healthy?

Roy Halladay is the X-factor on a Phillies team built around pitching. Ryan Howard and Chase Utley are right behind Halladay; the Phils need them on the field to compete.

While it's more of an under-the-radar story line than the aforementioned trio, Adams' ability to bounce back from his own injury woes is paramount in the Phils' ability to contend in 2013.

Adams, 34, had surgery to correct thoracic outlet syndrome in October. The procedure included having a right rib removed.

It's the same injury that cost St. Louis ace Chris Carpenter almost all of the 2012 season. After returning to pitch in September, and progressing fine this winter, Carpenter had a setback last week with the original symptoms returning. At 37, he might not pitch again.

But having given Adams a guaranteed $12 million over the next 2 years, the Phillies are obviously confident the veteran setup man is good to go. Or they're willing to take the risk.

Still, you'd rather see Adams looking like the shutdown, eighth-inning reliever he has been for most of the last 5 years at some point this spring than proceed with blind faith.

If Adams is healthy, the Phils have shored up what was arguably the team's biggest weakness in 2012. The Phillies lost 16 games that they had led in the seventh inning or later last season.

2 Can Darin Ruf and/or Domonic Brown fulfill their potential?

Each winter, not long before pitchers and catchers report to camp, a few baseball news organizations publish lists of the game's top prospects. The Phillies' current vacancy in leftfield can tell you a little bit about those lists.

Brown came through the Phillies system as a minor league golden boy; scouts and the people who put together the aforementioned "top prospects" lists loved him. Brown was once considered one of the top five prospects in all of baseball; the Phils refused to trade him for Roy Halladay in the summer of 2009.

Brown, now 25, hasn't made good on his former elite-prospect status. More than anything, he's had trouble staying on the field, battling one injury after another. If he hopes to win the leftfield job, he has to stay on the field this spring.

Ruf, 26, is the polar opposite of Brown. A first baseman by trade who began playing leftfield only last summer, Ruf didn't show up on any top-prospect lists before this winter.

But hitting 51 home runs in a calendar year - Ruf's total in games played in Reading (38), Philadelphia (three) and the Venezuelan Winter League (10) - will open people's eyes. It has also turned him into what Brown was for many Phillies fans: the guy who has set himself up for eye-popping expectations.

The Phils don't need either one of these players to turn into Matt Holliday or Carlos Gonzalez or Justin Upton. They just need one of them to become a productive, everyday major league outfielder.

3 Is Jimmy Rollins the Phillies' ideal leadoff hitter?

This is a burning question that's almost not even worthy of appearing here in print. Charlie Manuel is asked the same question about 80 times each season and gives the same response 80 times: Jimmy Rollins is my leadoff hitter.

You can keep asking the manager, but you're likely to keep getting the same response. But that doesn't mean it's not worth considering, especially if the offense struggles out of the game in 2013.

Once upon a time, a young player named Jimmy Rollins dethroned veteran Doug Glanville at the top of the Phillies' lineup. When the Phillies traded for speedy centerfielder Ben Revere in December, they might have set up a similar passing of the leadoff baton.

While the 24-year-old Revere has some of the same issues as Rollins - he doesn't walk much and had a lower OPS than Rollins in 2012 - he would give an old, tired lineup a different look and different energy.

And then there's Rollins, a switch-hitter with extra-base-hit power who might look ideal in the fifth spot, behind Ryan Howard. A potential Revere-Utley-Michael Young-Howard-Rollins top half of the lineup would appear to have the kind of balance Manuel talks about.

Alas, Rollins will almost certainly be leading off on April 1 at Turner Field. But perhaps Revere makes an impression on Manuel in the next 7 weeks to change his mind.

4 Cole Hamels is OK, right?

If you're going to panic this early into the baseball season, you might as well put the panic pedal on full throttle. Just a month ago a report surfaced on CSNPhilly.com that Cole Hamels had experienced shoulder soreness earlier this offseason and that he had to be shut down for a couple of weeks.

People already worried about Halladay, Howard and Utley were probably on their way to the Walt Whitman Bridge after reading that Hamels, too, was a potential health problem. But then 2 weeks ago, Hamels was asked about the soreness for the first time and he surprisingly acted as if it never existed.

"I don't even know what it was about . . . I've been healthy," Hamels said at the Philadelphia Sports Writers Dinner. "I haven't felt anything of that sort."

Hamels is either telling the truth - he threw four bullpen sessions in January in prepping for camp - or he's walking the same line the likes of Roy Halladay and Brad Lidge have in recent years. Yup, I'm fine, nothing to see here.

For Halladay, he scoffed at reports last spring that quoted scouts saying he didn't have any life on his pitches . . . and then 2 months later he succumbed to a lat injury that pitching coach Rich Dubee said had been an issue for some time.

Now, Hamels is probably fine. He did acknowledge soreness in September, which isn't surprising since almost every pitcher grows tired at the end of the 6-month season.

And the Phils were probably just being smart in having Hamels taper back his offseason routine in October. Take a month to rest, Cole, we just signed you to a $144 million contract.

But it's worth following Hamels' progression this spring in any event. If he were to go down, it's hard to see the Phillies recovering.

5 Charlie Manuel can't help but look over his shoulder at the new third-base coach, right?

In a word: No. Self-confidence is probably the ninth-year Phillies manager's most underrated trait. If you asked him straight up whether he thinks Ryne Sandberg will bump him out of a job in 2013, Manuel probably would chuckle.

This is actually the third spring Manuel will work with Sandberg at or near his side. Since being hired as the Triple A Lehigh Valley manager after the 2010 season, Sandberg, like the rest of the minor league coaches, has worked with the major league staff at the Carpenter Complex.

So if you're worried about it being awkward for Manuel, it can't be any more awkward than it's been in the last two springs.

Then again: Manuel is entering the last year of his contract for the first time since the spring of 2010. The Phils signed him to a new contract that spring; but it's highly unlikely to happen again this spring.

Manuel will turn 70 in January. Among major league managers, only Washington's Davey Johnson (who turned 70 last month) is older.

Sandberg, meanwhile, was a Hall of Fame player who has drawn plenty of praise as a minor league manager. Sandberg was promoted to the major league staff, as third-base coach, the day after the Phillies' season ended last October.

The proverbial writing would appear to be on the wall. It says here that Manuel won't let sharing dugout space with Sandberg affect him at all. Even if the Phillies get off to a slow start, it would be shocking if ownership decided to dismiss the winningest manager in franchise history before the end of the season.

On Twitter: @ryanlawrence21

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