The top three spots in the Phillies batting order knocked in five of the Phillies eight runs. Reigning National League MVP Jimmy Rollins and his middle infield partner Chase Utley hit a combined .444 (4-for-9) with four runs scored and four runs batted in.
But those numbers don’t tell the whole story. Even as the duo hit close to .500 in the series opener, some of the outs the pair made were as telling as their hits.
In the fourth inning, Rollins came up with Pedro Feliz at third and Carlos Ruiz at second after Kendrick had just laid down a successful sacrifice bunt to move the runners over with one out. Instead of trying to pull the ball and drive it for a homerun, he calmly grounded the ball to the right side allowing Feliz to score and giving the Phils a 6-3 lead. This sequence came right after Cincinnati had cut the lead to 5-3 in the prior half inning.
The lazy groundball proved even more selfless considering Rollins had a single and double in his first two at-bats and he could have easily tried to do too much wanting to get a triple and continue the bid for a natural cycle. Had the Phillies not gotten that run home and stemmed the Reds momentum , the entire dynamic of the game could have changed.
Rollins came back and did the same thing in the ninth, contributing to the Phils getting an insurance run against Todd Coffey and give the team a four run lead.
Utley set the tone for the game when he hit homeruns in back to back at-bats early in the game to get the Phils out front early and to make sure they stayed there after the Reds cut into the lead in the fifth. The second-baseman didn’t stop there and had the presence of mind to hit the ball to the right side after a Shane Victorino single in the ninth to try and give the Phillies a second insurance run in the ninth.
The presence of mind and selfless at-bats of these two leaders was undoubtedly noticed by their teammates, and will help to reinforce the solid fundamentals and teamwork that are necessary for the team to achieve its goal of making the playoffs for the second straight season.
Charlie Manuel made some curious bullpen maneuvers for the second straight game as he tried to piece the final innings together. As the eighth inning started, Manuel brought in the newly acquired Rudy Seanez with a double switch. The pitchers’ spot was due to lead off the bottom half of the inning and by bringing in So Taguchi to play leftfield, Manuel was able to insert Seanez into the fifth spot in the batting order and allow him to pitch two innings without making a plate appearance. This made sense as Tom Gordon was likely unavailable after throwing 34 pitches in his outing on Thursday against Washington.
The Phillies never reached the fifth spot of their order in the top of the ninth, but Manuel chose to call on JC Romero to close out the game. Manuel used Romero needlessly in the ninth inning, in a decision that may impact how the bullpen can be used for the rest of the Reds series.
Romero has pitched in all four of the Phillies games so far, and will likely be unavailable out of the bullpen on Saturday. Ryan Madson threw 35 pitches in two innings of relief earlier in the game and will likely also be unavailable to pitch on Saturday.
The argument can be made that Manuel didn’t want to send Seanez back out for the ninth after the Phillies added the extra run in the top half of the inning since the Phils had a four run lead. Since Seanez had entered the game when it was a still a three run game, Seanez would have earned a save if he had been allowed to finish the game.
Manuel must improve in his bullpen management strategies, especially when he has a starter going on Saturday who represents the biggest question mark on the starting staff. No one is quite sure how effective Adam Eaton will be when he toes the rubber for his first outing of the season. Based on last season’s performances by Eaton, the tired bullpen will be called upon early and often.
Manuel has set up his bullpen to fail and kill all the momentum his team has gained by getting back to .500 after starting the season 0-2.