How Charlie Manuel Can Get the Most Out of the Young Phillies
After losing two of three this past weekend to the Atlanta Braves, it's almost safe to say that the Philadelphia Phillies are out of the playoff picture. Despite a 6-3 victory over the division-leading Washington Nationals Tuesday night, the Phillies remain 5.5 games out of the second wild-card spot.
With only eight games left, let's just say the odds aren't in the Phillies' favor.
So it may behoove Charlie Manuel to give the team's younger players a shot to see if they can fill any of the team's many needs. With the offseason looming, the Phils figure to be in the market for a third baseman, center fielder and a veteran bullpen arm. Possibly a starting pitcher, too.
Although seemingly adamant about not doing so, Manuel finally gave Eastern League MVP Darin Ruf his first major league start Tuesday night. It was a breath of fresh air, and though it might have signified that the end of the Phils' playoff chances is near, that start created hope, both for this year but primarily for next.
Since Ruf could be fighting for a major league job next year, it's important for the front office to get a good look at him, both offensively and defensively. If they feel he's ready, the Phils won't have to shop for a left fielder. Likewise, if they don't like what they see, you can add a left fielder to the offseason shopping list.
Along with Ruf, many of the Phillies' relief pitchers are young guys who will be competing for major league jobs in spring training. The outfield has a fight brewing as well. Aside from Ruf, Domonic Brown, John Mayberry, Jr. and Nate Schierholtz will be competing for starting jobs.
To give all the players a shot, especially the younger ones, Manuel will have to mix things up a bit. Here's how he can do just that.
Provide More Starting Outfield Opportunities
Last night was the first game in which Phillies' minor-league phenom Darin Ruf started in left field. He helped the Phils' cause, going 2-for-3, including his first major league hit, a home run. It was encouraging to see Ruf, who had had only pinch-hitting opportunities in the past and hadn't connected for a hit in any of them.
That's just the kind of thing Charlie Manuel has to do. He needs to give guys like Ruf more starts. He's done a good job of doing that with Domonic Brown despite the fact that he's virtually a lock for a starting spot next year. But it's not just about Brown.
As well as he's done in the month of September, Juan Pierre should not be starting every day. Even if he is on the team next year, Pierre's not going to be a part of the Phils' long-term future, and that's something they have to invest in now.
Ty Wigginton should not be starting in left field either, given that he's nearly a surefire bet to have his option declined for next season and that his defense in the outfield is terrible.
Someone like Nate Schierholtz should be starting more often. Considering he's a possible non-tender candidate heading into arbitration this offseason, the Phils should see whether they want to tender him a contract and see how well he can play. It could determine at least a portion of his worth as well.
Having said that, maybe the Phillies already know that they're going to cut him, so maybe they're not using him because they don't care.
And while John Mayberry, Jr. has started some games, the Phillies know that he's not a guy to rely on as a starter. He had his chance in the first half of the season and blew it, plain and simple. If Mayberry's kept next year, he'll be a platoon player at best. The same goes for Laynce Nix, though that's inevitable anyway.
If Manuel wants to get the most out of his younger players, he needs to make sure that he gives them more playing time. With that, theoretically, comes more results. The Phillies need results.
Get the job done, Charlie.
In Non-Save Situations, Go with Younger Question Marks
To give closer Jonathan Papelbon more appearances, Charlie Manuel has pitched him in many non-save situations to keep his arm fresh. It's certainly a good strategy on paper. But given how poorly Papelbon's pitched in such situations, it's high time he's limited only to save opportunities.
That would imply that I'm suggesting that anybody but Papelbon pitch in the later innings. That's not the case, though. With relievers such as Antonio Bastardo, B.J. Rosenberg and Jeremy Horst, you know what you're going to get. Bastardo's a strikeout pitcher but struggles with command. Rosenberg flat-out stinks, and Horst has been pretty awesome, though if there are questions about him of which I'm not aware, he should not be given a guaranteed spot in next year's bullpen.
I'm talking more about Phillippe Aumont, Justin De Fratus, Josh Lindblom and Jake Diekman. These four will all be fighting for 2013 bullpen spots in spring training, but only so many will get one. Add in the possibility of a potential free-agent signing for the bullpen, and that narrows the odds even more.
If the Phillies are trying to evaluate whether a reliever should be high priority on their offseason shopping list, they should give these four pitchers (and again, add Horst if there's any front office doubts about him) the only bullpen opportunities for the remainder of the season.
Like with the outfielders, if the Phils like what they see out of Aumont, De Fratus, Lindblom and Diekman, then don't spend on a reliever or save one for last. If they don't, go out and get one. After all, Manuel wants one. Badly.
Keep in mind that with Michael Schwimer and Michael Stutes also on hand, this will be a heated competition come February. For now, though, Manuel needs to see how much he can get out of the question marks for spring training. And right now, the only way to do that is to let those pitchers, and only those pitchers, pitch in the later innings, maybe even in save situations.
Bring Up Minor League Position Players
Who said that all the young Phillies had to be with the major league squad?
On the 40-man roster, the Phillies have two players who stick out as possibly deserving of a call-up. One is outfielder Tyson Gillies, a center fielder. The other is second baseman Cesar Hernandez.
Gillies has had his ups and downs since joining the Phillies in the trade that sent Cliff Lee trade to the Seattle Mariners. When he's been on the field, he's been fantastic. That's just it, though. He's rarely been on the field. Whether hurt or suspended for lashing out at a team bus driver, Gillies hasn't seen much playing time. But when he has, he's hit and defended rather well.
Hernandez was signed by the Phillies many years ago as a 16-year-old out of Venezuela. At one point, he was considered to be the future heir to Chase Utley. Now that Freddy Galvis has assumed that role, either Hernandez or Galvis is going to have to make a position switch. Personally, I'm in favor of Galvis moving to third base rather than Utley, but that's a debate for another day.
The point is this. If Hernandez has any potential as a major league second baseman, or even as a utility infielder, he should get a couple of games to prove his worth.
His defense isn't as good as that of Galvis, but it's considered above average. He hits for solid contact and has nice gap and overall power. Could he become the next Wilson Valdez for the Phillies, one who's both younger and cheaper? Maybe it's time to see if he's the better player for the job than Michael Martinez.
Whether Gillies and Hernandez deserve call-ups is a different story, as I believe that neither one does, albeit for different reasons. But if the Phillies think either has any major league potential, Manuel should at least get each a game or two to show his stuff.
Maybe it could save the Phillies some bucks in the offseason.
Promote Jonathan Pettibone to Start a Game
It's a stretch, I know. But it's far from a bad idea.
Considered near the bottom of the pack of the Phillies' baby aces in their minor league system prior to the season, Pettibone has emerged as the most reliable and major-league ready of the bunch.
Trevor May struggled to control his pitches and make an impact on hitters. Jesse Biddle's been fantastic but is too young. Julio Rodriguez was not as effective as last year. And Brody Colvin's gone to the bullpen and back, with mixed results in the low minors.
Tyler Cloyd got the call and has done relatively well in the majors so far. Granted, he spent a much larger portion of the season at Triple-A Lehigh Valley than Pettibone did, and he also had better results. But while it can't get much better than Cloyd this year, Pettibone did well in the last month or so of the season, starting seven games and going 4-1 with a 2.55 ERA and .204 opponents' batting average. Not bad in my mind.
It's been a little while since Pettibone's pitched, given that the minor league playoffs ended in mid-September and Lehigh Valley was eliminated earlier than that. He's also not on the 40-man roster.
But you'd expect that Pettibone is still throwing to keep his arm sharp for next year, and getting him on the 40-man is just a 15- to 60-day DL move away. It's not a complicated scenario.
With Roy Halladay's final start in question, it may be best to shut him down to prevent further damage to his shoulder and to give another starter a chance. Since the rotation only has Cliff Lee, Cole Hamels, Kyle Kendrick and Tyler Cloyd in it after Halladay at this point, who would get the final start?
Exactly my point.
There's talk of the Phillies being in the market for a starting pitcher. Whether I agree with that isn't important. But if they do choose to go that route, why not solve the issue from within instead? Whether Kendrick, Cloyd or someone else, why not add in Pettibone to heat up the competition?
Charlie, it's time you tell Halladay he's done and give someone like Pettibone a shot.
Start Younger Players, Rest Starters for Next Year
See, even they applaud the move!
In all seriousness, Phillies veterans and Manuel favorites Ryan Howard, Chase Utley and Jimmy Rollins are getting older and the former two are more injury prone than ever. Rollins hasn't gone a full year without injury since 2009, though 2012 could break that curse.
Howard has come back after rupturing his Achilles tendon on the last play of the 2011 NLDS against the St. Louis Cardinals. He's hit home runs, including his 300th for his career. His RBI total has bounced back. But his batting average? OPS? Worse than ever. His batting average, on-base percentage and slugging percentage split stands at .225/.297/.435.
The slugging percentage is serviceable, but the other two are far from tolerable. His defense has been good by his standards, though as always it needs improvement. It wouldn't hurt to shut down Howard for the rest of the year to give his still-recovering tendon some rest.
Utley has dealt with his infamous knee issues. Whether patellar tendinitis or chrondromalacia, the once potentially Hall of Fame-bound second baseman's biggest issue is now staying healthy. Second base has taken a huge toll on Utley's knees, and he missed most of the first half of the season re-strengthening his knees so he can play on a consistent basis.
And he has, with his power numbers even coming back and his average bouncing back from last year. But with games holding little to no significance, does Utley need to further wear down his knees? The answer is no.
Give players such as Darin Ruf, Cesar Hernandez (assuming a call-up) and even John Mayberry, Jr. and/or Laynce Nix some starts. Heck, even give Michael Martinez some starts if it appeases the front office so their 2011 Rule 5 pick wasn't in vain.
I'm just kidding about that last one, but you get the point.
It'd be best for Charlie Manuel to shut down Howard and Utley. With both dealing with nagging injuries that won't heal without rest, it's best to sit them both down so they're ready for next year and the young players can get some playing time.