Youth not serving Phillies well

Phillies third baseman Cody Asche can't get to a ball down the line. (Ron Cortes/Staff Photographer)
Phillies third baseman Cody Asche can't get to a ball down the line. (Ron Cortes/Staff Photographer)
Posted: May 17, 2014

An hour had passed since the Phillies' lifeless, 3-0 loss to the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim on Wednesday afternoon at Citizens Bank Park, and senior citizens were lined up for an opportunity to circle the bases as team-hired photographers snapped shots that would later be offered for sale.

It's a promotional gig that invites ridicule when you have one of baseball's oldest teams and you're struggling to score runs the way the Phillies have recently. The loss to the Angels marked the third time in nine games the Phillies had been blanked. Their 25 home runs are the third fewest in baseball, and their 144 runs rank 12th in the National League.

At least some old guys crossed home plate Wednesday.

The joke doesn't work because the Phillies' problem is not their old guys; it is their young ones.

"Our better players are doing a good job, and they've been fairly consistent swinging the bats," manager Ryne Sandberg said after Wednesday's loss. "We've got to get better as a full lineup."

The Phillies' 30-somethings - Chase Utley, Jimmy Rollins, Marlon Byrd, Carlos Ruiz, and Ryan Howard - are hitting a combined .288 with 50 doubles, 19 home runs, and 91 RBIs.

Utley has been the most productive second baseman in baseball and among the most productive players in all of baseball. Byrd has been one of the best free-agent signings in baseball to this point. Rollins is among the most productive shortstops and the same can be said about Ruiz at catcher. Only Howard is lagging behind other players at his position, but he has at least shown glimpses of power.

It is the 20-somethings who are dragging the Phillies down. The trio of Cody Asche, 23; Domonic Brown, 26; and Ben Revere, 26, is batting a combined .238 with 11 doubles, three triples, four home runs, and 32 RBIs. Add in the other 20-somethings who have had at-bats for the Phillies this season and the combined batting average is .217. That doesn't even take into consideration the shaky defense being played by Asche and Revere.

"We put our eggs in the basket with these guys," general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. said. "We have to give them a chance and be patient. You want younger players, but that doesn't mean they're going to be better players until they're ready to play at this level. There are very few Mike Trouts and Miguel Cabreras who come on the scene and are immediately productive.

"You can look around, and there are a lot of younger players that teams are counting on and they're not ready to produce consistently. It's part of the growing process."

The Phillies had a chance to add a twenty-something player to the roster Thursday, but they decided that leftfielder/first baseman Darin Ruf is not ready to contribute at the major-league level just yet. Ruf, after opening the season on the disabled list with a strained left oblique muscle, was activated and optioned to triple-A Lehigh Valley.

"He just needs to get into a rhythm of some sort," Amaro said. "Health-wise, he's fine. It's a matter of getting his reps. At the end of spring training, he wasn't swinging the bat that well even though he started out OK."

Ruf batted .217 in spring training with two doubles, two home runs, and seven RBIs before suffering the oblique injury March 20 during batting practice. He started a rehab assignment at single-A Clearwater last week and moved to Lehigh Valley earlier this week. In six games, he was hitting .227 (5 for 22) with no extra-base hits and three RBIs.

"My job is to bring guys up when they're ready to contribute at the major-league level," Amaro said. "When he's not ready to contribute immediately, that's not fair to us, and that's not fair to him. When he is ready to contribute, we'll bring him."

The problem, of course, is that the roster is littered with players who are not contributing. The 20-somethings in the bullpen have also been a disaster, which is why many of them now reside in Lehigh Valley.

"No one wants to be patient, but sometimes we have to be patient," Amaro said. "I hear, 'Ruben has to understand that the fans are intelligent enough to know that there will be growing pains with younger players.' But as soon as things don't go well, I hear: 'What's going on with this team?' This is part of it."

Patience is being preached now, but Amaro indicated it will not be forever.

"There is a limit on how long and how patient we're going to be," the general manager said. "Brownie has to start swinging the bat. Revere has to score some runs and get on base more. Asche has to be more consistent on both sides. At some point, they have to start doing it. If they don't, then we'll try to figure out a solution."


bbrookover@phillynews.com

@brookob

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