Tuesday, April 29, 2003

Listen to the silence

I will likely not be able to post again until Friday morning, at the earliest. My father is going in for preventive heart surgery in the morning, and I will be at the hospital for the next couple of days. When I get back, I'll recap the Dodgers' series. Check in then...

Roster Notes

  • 2B Placido Polanco has remained with the team since going on the DL with his finger injury. There has not been many updates on his condition, and I am going with no-news-is-good-news. Expect him to be activated when he is eligible.

  • P Hector Mercado has been rehabbing in Reading. I am not sure what the plans are with him when he is ready. They may leave him in the minors. If they call him up, my guess is that Joe Roa will be the odd-man out. He has only made one relief appearance since Brandon Duckworth returned to the rotation, and may be the victim of numbers.

  • Lastly, CF Marlon Byrd was activated from the DL after last night's game. INF Nick Punto was sent down, meaning that 2B Chase Utley will continue to get most of the starts while Polanco stays on the DL, and leaving Houston, Pratt, Perez, and Michaels on the bench.

    With Byrd returning to the roster, and Ricky Ledee playing very well in his absence, I have been surprised that I have not seen more articles asking whether or not Ledee should remain the starter. Before he went on the DL, Byrd was going through some rookie struggles. He was hitting .161/.316/.258/.574 with no homers and four RBI. He had yet to swipe a base.

    Ledee, on the other hand, is swinging as hot as bat as the Phillies have right now. He is putting up .300/.373/.583/.956 numbers, with three home runs and 13 RBI. He is getting on base in the two-hole, and is getting key hits. He is also playing well defensively. The problem with Ledee is, and always has been, his record against lefthanded pitchers. To that note, Larry Bowa is keeping Ledee out of games when a lefty starts for the opponent. He only has six at-bats against LHP this season, with one hit to show for it. So the first thought that comes to mind is to start Ledee versus righties, and bring in Byrd for the lefties.

    The problem with that is that Byrd has not been any better against lefties -- 0-5 on the season. So a standard lefty/righty platoon is out of the question. So what do the Phillies do?

    Do they stick with Byrd, following through on their promise to let the young CF have the time to find his legs in the big leagues? Or do they, in essence, "punish him" for being injured, leaving Ledee in the spot he has worked hard to earned in the chance given to him?

    In my mind, you can't mess with what is working right now. Ledee is hitting well, and he's bringing some energy to the lineup. Ride his hot streak. If and when he cools off, work Byrd back into the lineup. Give him spot starts now, for that matter. But let Ledee play through his streak. Pulling him from the lineup now has negative effects beyond taking a hot bat out of the lineup. By pulling Ledee, you really don't have a hitter for the number two spot in the order (normally manned by Polanco). Byrd is not hitting well enough to fill that spot, and neither is 2B Chase Utley. If Tomas Perez is the starter at 2B, he could hit there, but that's not the ideal spot for him, either. Having some combination of Byrd/Utley/Perez at the bottom of the order forces Bowa to move David Bell up to the #2 hole. Bell is fine for the 2-spot, but moving him takes away from the middle of the lineup, causing more problems.

    In general, I don't believe that a player should lose his starting spot because of injury. But in this case, I think you have to take into account the struggles Byrd was having before he went down, as well as the success Ledee is currently having. Taken as a whole, I think the Phillies need to take their time working Byrd back into the lineup. I guess we'll see tonight what Larry Bowa has in mind...

  • Another day, another shutout

    The offense, for the most part, is still stuck in a rut. Thank goodness the pitching is not.

    One night after Kevin Millwood threw a no-hitter at the Giants, his star pupil did his best to match that effort in Los Angeles. Brett Myers turned in his fifth strong performance of the season, picking up the win after 7 2/3 innings of six-hit, shutout baseball. Myers walked none and struck out four in the Phillies 3-0 win over the Dodgers.

    Jimmy Rollins started last night's game with a double. He moved to third on a groundout by Ricky Ledee, and after a walk to Bobby Abreu, scored when Darren Dreifort's attempt to turn a comebacker by Pat Burrell into an inning-ending double play ended up in center field. Jim Thome hit his fourth home run of the season in the 4th, a towering fly to the pavilion in left field, to give Myers a 2-0 cushion.

    Myers cruised from there on. After getting into a bases loaded jam in the third, he induced a double-play ball to get out of the inning. The Dodgers did not have another baserunner until Paul LoDuca beat out an infield hit in the sixth. Myers again stayed out of trouble until giving up back-to-back, two-out hits in the eighth. At that point, Larry Bowa went to the bullpen, and Dan Plesac got Shawn Green to ground out to end the inning. Jose Mesa came in to clean up in the ninth, and picked up the save -- but not without some trouble. Mesa allowed two-out singles to Ron Coomer and Jolbert Cabrera, bringing the tying run to the plate in the form of pinch-hitter Todd Hundley. Mesa got Hundley to ground to second, ending the game.

    While the offense continues to struggle -- the only regulars over .300 are Mike Lieberthal and Ricky Ledee -- the Phillies keep winning. They are winning because of their pitching...not something that Phillies fans are used to seeing. The Phillies, as a team, have a 3.27 ERA, good for third in the NL. Opponents are hitting .235 against them (3rd in the NL), have an OBP of .309 (5th), and are slugging .362 (4th). To a certain extent, the addition of Kevin Millwood brought people to expect this kind of output from the starters, specifically Millwood, Wolf, and Padilla. With the brilliant pitching of Myers thrown in there, the starters have put up very good numbers:

    3.41 ERA (4th in the NL)
    1.24 WHIP (4th)

    But the relievers have been just as good:

    3.00 ERA (3rd in NL)
    1.30 WHIP (5th)

    Much of the bullpen's success can be attributed to the starters' success, and the fact that the starters are lasting deep into games.

    Brett Myers: 2-2, 2.20, 8.54 K/9, 1.22 WHIP -- averaging almost 6 2/3 innings per start, and has gone at least six innings in each of his five starts
    Vicente Padilla: 3-2, 2.31, 7.97 K/9, 1.03 WHIP -- averaging 7 innings per start
    Randy Wolf: 3-1, 2.93, 7.63 K/9, 1.14 WHIP -- averaging over 6 innings per start
    Kevin Millwood: 4-1, 3.48, 8.82 K/9, 1.16 WHIP -- averaging almost 5 2/3 innings per start; take out his 2 inning, injury-shortened start, and he averages 6 1/3 IP per start

    On average, the starters are leaving the bullpen with three innings to finish up -- one inning if the plan is to hand it over to Terry Adams in the eighth, and Jose Mesa in the ninth. Mesa and Adams have struggled at times this season -- they have two of the highest WHIP numbers on the team -- but the guys getting to them have been very good. Turk Wendell has allowed four baserunners in his six innings since his return from injury. Dan Plesac has allowed four hits in 4 1/3 innings. Eric Junge allowed 5 baserunners in 6 2/3 IP. Carlos Silva has given up 18 hits in 20 2/3 IP. Even Rheal Cormier has allowed only ten hits in ten innings, and has a 9/2 K/BB ratio.

    So while much is being made of the Phillies lack of power thus far in the season, they have still jumped out to a 16-10 record. For that, they can thank their pitching staff. Hoping it continues tonight, Randy Wolf goes for win number four against Dodger ace Kevin Brown.

    Monday, April 28, 2003

    My sob story

    I missed yesterday's no-hitter. I spent the weekend in DC with my college buddies, watching the NFL Draft. Don't get me wrong -- I don't regret the decision. I haven't seen my friends since November, and it was a fun and relaxing weekend. But as I was fighting my way north on I-95 yesterday, sitting in an endless traffic jam, I was missing the game. By the time I got into radio range, I flipped on the game just in time to hear Scott Graham (an underrated radio voice, by the way) scream out, "Kevin Millwood has just thrown a no-hitter!"

    Thankfully, the car wasn't moving, or I might have driven off the road. The sad part is that until my friend invited me down for the weekend, I was planning on going. When the first schedule came out in the offseason, I had marked this game as one I was interested in going to.

    I missed out...

    And why not? Late April, it should be a beautiful Sunday afternoon; it was the Giants, and I can always stand to watch Barry Bonds; and I haven't been to a game since Opening Day.

    But no, I went to DC and passed on the game. And the closest I got to history yesterday was the voice of Scott Graham telling me that "Kevin Millwood has just thrown a no-hitter!"

    Postscript: To add insult to injury...after I listened to Graham for a few minutes, I called my wife and told her to flip on the game. She watched for a couple of seconds, and twisted the knife in my back a little more: "Weren't we planning on going to this game?" Yeah...yeah, we were. Such is life...

    Leaving on a high note

    Hidden by Millwood's gem yesterday were a few things from the weekend:

    First off, my hat's off to SF's Jesse Foppert, who was the epitome of a hard-luck loser yesterday: 6 IP, 1 R, 3 H. He pitched well in his 2nd career start, making strides from his first start in Pittsburgh earlier in the week, but just threw the ball on the wrong day.

    WIth yesterday's game and the 10-2 victory over San Fran on Saturday, the Phillies took two of three from the Giants, becoming the first team to win a series from the Giants in the regular season since last August. Brandon Duckworth bounced back from a disasterous season debut with five steady innings on Saturday night. He got out of a bases-loaded jam in the first, and finished five strong innings giving up one run on five hits. Carlos Silva pitched the last four innings, giving up a run on four hits, to collect his second career save. Some power returned to the Phillies lineup on the evening, as well, as both Bobby Abreu and Jim Thome hit their third of the season.

    Even Friday night's loss was better than it looked. Vicente Padilla was the tough-luck loser after giving up five runs -- only two earned -- in 7 2/3 innings. The game was tied at two in the top of the eighth before Phillies errors gave the game away. The recap from ESPN.com:

    With one out in the eighth, Rich Aurilia reached when second baseman Chase Utley's throw pulled Jim Thome off first, even though it appeared Thome touched the bag before Aurilia.

    Padilla got Barry Bonds on a flyout, but Cruz walked and Benito Santiago hit an infield single to third, loading the bases.

    Dan Plesac entered and got Snow to hit his first pitch to shallow left, but the ball bounced off Burrell's glove and rolled to the corner, scoring all three runners to give the Giants a 5-2 lead.

    You can't give a team like SF second and third chances. Still, without the errors, the game was closer than it appeared. So, two of three from the Giants after sweeping the Rockies gave the Phillies a 5-1 homestand before heading west for 10 games in 10 days, and they are 15-10 overall, tied with Montreal and Atlanta for first in the East. The Phillies now travel west to take on the Dodgers for four games, followed by three in San Diego and three in Arizona. Tonight's matchup is Myers vs. Darren Dreifort.

    Happy Birthday Phanatic!

    I joked that I wasn't going to yesterday's game because I didn't have a gift for the Phillie Phanatic, who turned a young 25 yesterday. As it turns out, Kevin Millwood provided a gift for the 40,000 in attendance, and the thousands of us who will someday say we were there.

    As I am sure all of you have heard by now, P Kevin Millwood fired the 9th no-hitter in Phillies history yesterday, shutting down the San Francisco Giants 1-0. CF Ricky Ledee provided the offensive and defensive support Millwood needed -- Ledee hit a solo homer in the bottom of the first inning for the game's only run, and made a spectacular running catch in the top of the 7th inning -- but Millwood was far and away the star of the game.

    Millwood is joined by teammates as he celebrates his no-hit performance; courtesy ESPN.com

    9 IP, 0 H, 0 R, 3 BB, 10 K

    Can't beat that by a whole lot, now can you? Millwood fired 108 pitches, 72 for strikes. Some of the Phillies personnel claim that almost 90% of those pitches were fastballs. Early on, Millwood knew that he didn't have his breaking or offspeed stuff working. The curve just wasn't falling and hitting the target. The offspeed stuff just didn't feel right. So Millwood stuck with the heater. And as "off" as the other pitches felt, the fastball was that "on". He put it where he wanted it all day. He placed it high, he placed it low. He painted corners inside and out. His fastball was topping out at around 94 MPH, but to Giants hitters it must have seemed like it was on a string.

    And by the time all was said and done, 40,000-plus fans in red and white were celebrating a piece of baseball history. As I heard Phillies radio guy Tom McCarthy say yesterday afternoon, "I think the Phillies traveling party could make it to the West Coast right now without the plane."

    Some no-hitter facts that are relevant:

  • Millwood's no-hitter was the 9th in Phillies history, and the first since Tommie Greene shut down the Expos in Montreal back in 1991.
  • Millwood's no-no was the second by a Phillies' pitcher at the Vet, joining Terry Mulholland -- who also blanked the Giants back in August 1990.
  • It was the first no-hitter in the majors in exactly a year -- Derek Lowe no-hit the Devil Rays on this date in 2002.
  • Ricky Ledee became the 9th player in history to provide the only run of a no-hitter with a home run.

    Congratulations to Kevin Millwood on a day all pitchers dream of...

  • Friday, April 25, 2003

    Those other pickups

    Almost a month into the season, and much of the talk still remains on free-agent pickup Jim Thome. But in his latest Rumblings and Grumblings article, Jayson Stark talks about the early importance of a couple of other additions.

    Rockies get Chase-d

    Sad, title, I know...

    Nonetheless, rookie 2B Chase Utley stole the show yesterday. In his first major league start -- he was called up when 2B Placido Polanco was put on the DL Wednesday -- Utley showed that he was up to the challenge. He collected his first major league hit yesterday -- a grand slam that made the score 6-0 Phillies in the third inning. From there, the Phillies cruised to a 9-1 victory, and the series sweep of the Rockies.

    Lefty Randy Wolf closed out a strong April and washed away fears of another slow start to his season with 7 2/3 strong innings of four-hit ball, striking out eight along the way. His only mistake was a solo homerun to OF Jay Payton. Wolf -- who squeezed his way out of a bases loaded, no out jam in the fifth -- wraps up his April at 3-1, with a 2.93 ERA.

    Once again, the Phillies jumped to an early lead, scoring two runs in the first after Jimmy Rollins singled and Ricky Ledee walked to start the inning. Rollins scored when Bobby Abreu reached on an error, and Ledee came home on a Jim Thome sac fly. Utley's slam gave the Phils a 6-0 lead in the third, and Pat Burrell finally hit his third of the year in the fifth. The Phillies added their last two in the eighth after Utley led off the inning with a double and reliever Rheal Cormier followed him with a single. Rollins brought Utley home on a double, and Abreu plated Cormier with a single.

    Rollins finished the day 3-5, raising his average to .301 and his OBP to .387. Burrell's two hits brought him up to .239, but Thome went 0-3 with a walk, dragging him down to .268.

    After sweeping the Rockies, the Phillies will play weekend hosts to the NL's hottest team, the San Francisco Giants. Vicente Padilla will go for the Phils tonight against Kurt Ainsworth. Brandon Duckworth will try to bounce back from a distasterous season debut tomorrow against a pitcher to be determined, while Kevin Millwood with start on Sunday against rookie Jesse Foppert.

    The arrival of the Giants means the return of Barry Bonds to one of his favorite road parks. In his lifetime, Bonds has hit .302 (102 for 338) at the Vet, and his 27 homers there are the most by any visiting player. In the last three seasons alone, Bonds has hit .400/.539/.831/1.430 against the Phillies, with 8 HR and 17 RBI in 55 AB. Expect some fireworks if Larry Bowa lets his pitchers pitch to the mighty slugger.

    Thursday, April 24, 2003

    I almost forgot...

    Alex Belth has a wonderful interview up with NY Times writer Buster Olney over at Bronx Banter. The interview is lengthy, but absolutely fascinating. Here's Olney's perception on the differences between the clubhouse in the Bronx, and the one at Shea:

    BB: How much of a difference was there between the Mets and Yankees clubhouses?

    Buster: The culture was definitely different. It’s night and day. Joe, I think has a lot of players that he doesn’t like. It’s not players he doesn’t like. For instance: Wells. I don’t think he’s going to be going out to dinner with Wells when he retires, but Joe realizes how to deal with a situation in a professional manner. With Bobby, I always thought he was superior to Joe in terms of in-game preparation. But in terms of managing people, he didn’t do it as well. And that filtered over into the clubhouse. And I really believe this. I don’t think the Mets have had good leadership in their clubhouse. They don’t have leadership personalities.

    Run, don't walk, to check this one out...

    Myers gets some support

    Brett Myers entered last night's game against Colorado 0-2, but it wasn't for lack of trying. The Phillies offense, which has been prolific at times this year, has been non-existant in Myers's three starts, scoring only one run in the 19 innings that Myers has been on the mound. They quickly changed that last night.

    The Phillies put a quick 5-spot on the scoreboard in the bottom of the first inning, increasing the team's output for the young pitcher by 500%. Jimmy Rollins and Tyler Houston led off the inning with singles, and Bobby Abreu followed with a run-scoring double that was absolutely scorched to center. It was Abreu's second run-producing two-bagger in two nights, doubling his season total, and maybe signifying that he is starting to find his stroke again. Following a flyout by Pat Burrell and an intentional walk to Jim Thome, David Bell lifted a fly ball to right, barely scoring a hustling Houston from third for a 2-0 lead. Mike Lieberthal followed with a RBI single, and Ricky Ledee -- not intentionally walked with two outs and the pitcher on deck -- laced a 2-RBI double down the first-base line. Just like that it was 5-0, and Myers settled into cruise control.

    The 5-run outburst helped to settle Myers after a shaky first inning. After getting two quick outs to start the game, Myers struggled with the heart of the Rockies' lineup. The 3-4-5 hitters reached base, loading the bases for free-swinging Jose Hernandez. After fouling off a couple of pitches that very well could have been ball four, Hernandez swung at a 3-2 pitch that looked out of the zone, and missed. Sit down, leave the bases full, and thanks for playing.

    After what pitching coach Joe Kerrigan called his "30-pitch mulligan", Myers cruised through six. He retired 11 of 12 after Bobby Estalella reached on an error to lead of the sixth, and left in the seventh after giving up a leadoff single to Hernandez. He finished with six-plus innings, three hits, one run, and nine strikeouts. He was charged with a run when Estalella followed Hernandez in the seventh with a 2-run homer off Carlos Silva. Terry Adams gave up two more in the eighth, but the bullpen held on for a 6-4 victory. After my harping yesterday, Jose Mesa closed the game out with a perfect ninth.

    In other news...

  • Evidently, 2B Placido Polanco didn't feel as good after batting practice Tuesday as he let on. Pain in the finger returned yesterday, after Polanco took his first swings in a week, so the team placed him on the DL retroactive to last Wednesday, April 16th. 2B Chase Utley was recalled to take his roster spot, and offer Larry Bowa with another bat on the bench. Utley has been hitting .302/.357/.429 since he returned to Scranton.

  • Marlon Byrd went 3-4 with a double in his Scranton rehab stint last night. He will head to Reading tonight to continue his rehab, before traveling west with the team Sunday night.

  • Wednesday, April 23, 2003

    Pitch counts, and a new blog

    Christian, over at The Cub Reporter, is keeping a close eye on Dusty Baker's abuse of the young Cub pitching staff. He's gone so far as to add a pitch abuse chart to the top of his web log. I find it interesting that Wood, Prior, and Zambrano are all averaging over 100 pitches already, and Matt Clement is averaging 99. I know they are young and strong, but someone is going to burn out sometime soon.

    Christian also has a bet going with Geoff of Ducksnorts, a Padres blog, and the newest member of my lists of links to the left. With the Cubs and Padres facing off at Wrigley this week, whichever team wins the series, that team's fan gets to control the other's blog for one day. With the Cubs' recent offensive output, Geoff is hesistant to talk trash. Geoff, remember this -- much of that offensive explosion was against Cincinnati. Just a little perspective...

    Go check both of them out...

    Injury update

  • 2B Placido Polanco took BP yesterday, and felt good. He was, however, concerned with his fielding. "What if I [mess] up a throw on a doubleplay?" Polanco said. "That could cost us." So he pronounced himself available to pinch-hit, but not quite ready for full-time play. In his place, Nick Punto got his first start of the year, and went 0-3.

  • During the telecast last night, I heard Larry Anderson (at least I think it was LA) say that Marlon Byrd would report to Scranton tonight to start his rehab, play a few games with Reading later in the week, and then travel with the team to the West Coast at the end of the homestand. He is eligible to be activated Tuesday, and should be ready.

  • P Turk Wendell made his fourth appearance last night and continues to look good and healthy. On the season now, Turk has thrown six innings, giving up only two hits and two walks. His return to form could help solidify the bullpen.

  • Switcharoo

    After all of the talk about giving Brett Myers his normal start last night after a few impressive starts to begin the season, the Phillies and Larry Bowa did a 180. Myers was pushed back a day, and staff ace Kevin Millwood got last night's start in a 5-2 victory over the previously hot Colorado Rockies. After stating that Myers deserved the start based on his previous performances, and that he didn't want to hurt the young pitcher's psyche by having him skipped in the rotation...well, Bowa passed him over anyway.

    When you get the full story, it makes sense. Bowa threw Millwood last night instead of tonight for a few reasons:

    1. Pitching Millwood last night allows the ace to get the team out of their mini-slump.
    2. Pitching Millwood last night allows him to make his next start at home (where he is now 7-1 lifetime), against the Giants (a team against whom he has at success) and not in LA after an all-night flight. Why the 22-year old Myers is better suited for that trick than the 28-year old Millwood is beyond me.
    3. Pitching Millwood last night allows Bowa to separate Myers and Brandon Duckworth in the rotation, and hopefully rest the bullpen between those two pitchers' appearances. Not knowing what he would be able to get out of Duckworth in the next few weeks, he didn't want to have to face the possibility of following up a short Duck outing with the young (and still inconsistant) Myers.
    4. Possibly most important, pitching Millwood on his normal five-days rest -- instead of pushing him back an extra day -- gives him the respect that a staff ace usually receives. This could prove important when it comes time for Millwood to hit the open market.

    Whatever the reasons, everything worked out last night. Millwood went six strong innings, giving up just one run on three hits. He did, however, walk four, showing that he hasn't quite hit his full stride yet. The bullpen, shaky as it was, held the 4-run lead for the final three innings.

    Another lineup change that Bowa made also ended up paying off. With lefty Darren Oliver on the mound for the Rockies, and CF Ricky Ledee struggling against lefties, Bowa plugged Jason Michaels in CF, and hit him in the 2-hole. This was a curious move, with Michaels being 0 for the season (0-7 since his return from the DL, 0-15 in his rehab stint); yet, Michaels was the key, as he went 3-4 and had a 2-run double in the 4th to stake the Phillies to a 5-0 lead. Outside of Michaels, however, the bats remained a bit quiet. The Phillies had only eight hits, but they came at key times. Besides Michaels's double, Bobby Abreu's only hit was a 2-run double in the third, which was followed by Pat Burrell's only hit of the night, a run-scoring double.

    One point of concern, at least for me, is the inability of closer Jose Mesa to have a crisp, clean, 1-2-3 inning. Mesa allowed a hit and a walk before finally shutting down the Rockies in the 9th. In nine appearances this year, Mesa has pitched nine innings, given up nine hits and walked five. He has had only two 1-2-3 innings, and they came in his first two appearances of the season. Hitters are batting .250 off of him, but more disturbing is his 1.56 WHIP. If he doesn't get things turned around soon, the Phillies could have a long summer on their hands.

    The true results of Bowa's tinkering will come tonight, as Myers finally takes the mound after being pushed back a night. How he reacts will be the key to the last minute switcharoo.

    Tuesday, April 22, 2003

    Bring Skip Back!

    I almost forgot to post on the topic that first caught my attention this morning. In the Philadelphia Inquirer this morning, there was an article critiquing the new-sound broadcast crew for TBS. And while the author of the article was not exactly chanting "Bring Skip back!", he wasn't delivering flowers and candy to Don and Joe, either. Check it out...

    A winner all the way

    Q: Who is the only player to have played in the MLB, College, and Little League World Series?

    This is the question of the moment on the Out of Left Field Trivia mailing list. My good friend Rachael, who did the Saturday reports for Will Carroll and Under the Knife last season, sends out a trivia question like this every Wednesday and Saturday. First person to get it right has the opportunity to suggest the next question.

    If you know the answer to the question above (I don't), or simply want to join the list, drop Rachael a line. Go ahead and tell her I sent you. It might get you bonus points.

    Quiet Off Day

    It has been a quiet off day, as far as the Phillies are concerned. 2B Placido Polanco is still recovering from the broken finger he suffered last Tuesday against Florida. He has been out of the lineup since then, and remains questionable for tonight. There is some talk that he may be placed on the DL, but at this point, if it happens it will be retroactive and the DL stint will only be about a week. However, Polanco hopes to play in the next few nights, and Larry Bowa is more than happy to get him back out there. Until "one of the steadiest infielders in the game" -- as 3B David Bell overhypes Polanco -- returns to the lineup, Bowa is playing with a very short bench.

    Much is being made of the Phillies lack of power early on. In addition to the Philadelphia Inquirer article I linked to yesterday, MLB.com offers a similar article today. As long as the Phils are scoring runs, I am happy. The power will come; it's the key hits with runners on that concern me.

    Another common story right now is the maturation of SS Jimmy Rollins. Philadelphia Daily News writer Marcus Hayes has an article on the leadoff man's increased patience. Rollins does, in fact, have 10 walks over his last eight games, and 13 on the season. Those 13 walks look pretty good when you compare it to his 15 strikeouts, or his career high of 54 walks in a season, set last year. Those 13 walks rank Rollins 11th in the NL in walks, behind such 90-foot travelers as Sosa, Bonds, and even Scott Rolen. His increased patience, along with the rise in his batting average, have brought his OBP up to a very respectable .376. If he can continued to get on base, he should put up some pretty good numbers.

    I know it's only April, but for some laughs, here are Jimmy's projected totals, courtesy of ESPN.com:

    119 R
    188 H
    60 2B
    102 RBI
    111 BB
    128 K

    If you had shown me these numbers in March, I would have taken them immediately. I'm still taking them now. Rollins and the Phillies organization hope that this walking trend is long-term.

    The Phillies, as a team, by the way, are tied for first in the NL with 91 walks. Here's an individual breakdown:

    Abreu, 14 (10th in the NL)
    Rollins, 13 (11th)
    Lieberthal, 11 (T13th)
    Thome, 10 (T19th)
    Bell, 9 (T29th)
    Burrell, 9 (T29th)
    Polanco, 8 (T41st)

    Now that I have started looking at the numbers, I can't stop. In terms of walks per plate appearance (BB/PA), their NL rankings are as follows:

    Lieberthal: 10th
    Abreu: 11th
    Rollins: 16th
    Bell: 29th
    Thome: T31st
    Polanco: T31st
    Burrell: 45th

    Walks per K (BB/K), NL Rank:

    Lieberthal: 2nd
    Polanco: T16th
    Abreu: 26th
    Rollins: 33rd

    "Walk This Way" might become popular over the Vet's sound system this summer.

    Monday, April 21, 2003

    Late Night at the 700 Level

    It's lonely up here when the Phillies are away... *grin*

    It's 11:30 at night, the Flyers have lost in double OT, and I can't fall asleep...so I am playing with the web site. One feature that I liked from the start on someone else's web site was the GuestMap that John Perricone has over at Only Baseball Matters. So I followed the sponsoring links and signed up for my own. I love free stuff!

    I have added the link for my GuestMap at the top of the left column...right over there <--. Click on that to pin the map and let me know where you are. Alternatively, if you don't like clicking on the graphic, click here.


    On the baseball front, a quiet day in the majors. Only 4 games overall. Toronto beat Boston in the Patriots Day special earlier this morning. Gotta love an 11am start time. The Yankees hit four homeruns, including two by Larry Bowa's nephew, Nick Johnson, in crushing and sweeping the Twins, 15-1. Ellis Burks and Karim Garcia each hit two in Cleveland's win over the White Sox. And Baltimore shut out Tampa Bay, 4-0.

    A full slate tomorrow, as the Rockies visit the Vet: Darren Oliver vs. Brett Myers. Here's hoping Myers gets a bit of support tomorrow. Someone wake the bats up!

    More Blogs

    When I finished reading through my daily assortment of blogs this morning, it was only 10:30. That means that blog-reading had taken up less than 25% of my workday. Finding this unacceptable, I started looking for new blogs to add to my ever-growing list. Thanks to some other blog writers, I came upon two new blogs to add to my links along the left.

  • RoyalBlog -- Mark is a longtime fan of the kings of KC and finally has something to cheer about again. His blog is still fairly new, but it is growing quickly. Check it out, and read the recent quote from David Glass...with reactions that quick, it's no wonder it's taken them so long to get their act together.

  • Dodger Thoughts -- As I said to Jon this morning, I am not a Dodger fan, but I can never root against a team that has Vin Scully behind the mic. I also found out that Jon is a fellow Georgetown grad. Hoya Saxa! Check out his site as he cheers his team on, despite the fact that they are playing better when he doesn't attend this year.

    Any other blogs I should be reading? Let me know...

  • Frozen Bats

    Something to think about as Colorado comes to town, and the weather starts to heat up:

    Colorado: 124, 1st in NL
    Philadelphia: 107, 3rd in NL

    Colorado: 28, 2nd in NL
    Philadelphia: 11, 16th in NL

    The Phillies are dead last in the NL in homeruns. Only the Tigers are worse in Major League Baseball. The lineup that people thought would be knocking the cover off the ball has yet to hit even a homer per game. Granted, all of that will change when the weather heats up a bit. It will change when Thome puts another foot on the ball and stops hitting it off the top of the wall. It will change when Burrell stops chasing breaking balls down and away. They will hit more homeruns.

    But if they already rank third in the league in runs scored now, imagine what will happen to their run total then...

    This Duck was cooked

    After dropping the final two at home to the Marlins, the Phillies spent the weekend in Atlanta, lost 2 of 3, and proved that fielding and pitching really are the keys to good baseball.

    In Friday night's frustrating loss, the Phils held a 4-1 lead in the sixth, and had knocked Braves' starter Greg Maddux out of the ballgame. But just as quickly as they had built their lead, it was gone. A hot shot off the bat of Marcus Giles slipped through the legs of Tyler Houston for a two-base error. Five batters later, with the score now 4-3 and two runners on, Vinny Castilla hit a routine fly ball to center. If you've seen the replays, you've seen how CF Ricky Ledee twisted and turned so much he looked like he was lost in the breeze. Instead, the ball was lost on Ledee, two more runs scored, and the Braves had themselves a 5-4 victory.

    In Saturday night's victory, Vicente Padilla pitched a masterpiece. Facing only three batters over the minimum, Padilla threw a complete-game shutout, allowing only four hits. Lost in the storyline of Mike Hampton's return to sea level, Padilla was locked on the target all night long, throwing only 25 balls out of the strike zone over 30 batters. He started 23 of those hitters off with a first-pitch strike, and threw no more than 5 balls in any single inning.

    Sunday's disaster was a complete opposite of Saturday night. Brandon Duckworth, in his first start of the season, had no control whatsoever, and was battered around in an inning and a third, giving up seven runs (six earned) on five hits and a pair of walks. He also hit a batter. If you were attending a late Easter service or an extended lunch, the Phillies were down 7-0 before you had a chance to flip the game on.

    Point of comparison between Saturday and Sunday:

    Padilla: 25 balls thrown
    Duckworth: 25 balls thrown

    Seems pretty even...let's expand it:

    Padilla: 25 balls, 107 pitches
    Duck: 25 balls, 46 pitches

    Ugh. And even further:

    Padilla: 25 balls, 107 pitches, 30 batters faced -- less than a ball per batter
    Duck: 25 balls, 46 pitches, 12 batters faced -- two balls per batter

    These two games show that it is all about location and consistancy. And by no means did Padilla's strong night mean he was blowing people away; he had only 4 strikeouts, and none after the third inning. Instead, he made the pitches he needed to, and hit the locations he wanted. The hitters made contact, but they did so weakly and hit it right at some one. Duckworth was missing locations, and when the hitters hit it, they usually found a gap.

    Maybe it had something to do with Duckworth wearing #31, Robert Person's old number?

    Off-day today; Rockies come to town for 3 starting tomorrow.

    (By the way, has anyone gotten tables to work in this template??)

    Thursday, April 17, 2003

    Ashburn Alley

    In a midday press conference today, the Phillies announced that they would honor Phillies fan favorite and Hall of Famer Richie Ashburn with "Ashburn Alley", an outdoor entertainment area in the new ballpark, set to open next spring. Ashburn Alley will span the entire outfield, and feature concessions, merchandise, a section of Phillies memories, and a statue of Whitey himself.

    Read more about this at phillies.com.

    Universal Baseball Blog, Inc.

    Those of you who read David Pinto's Baseball Musings have probably already found this, but Ben Jacobs has started his own baseball-based blog, called the Universal Baseball Blog, Inc. He has already jinxed the Royals, Giants, and Yankees. Check him out to try to reverse/continue that jinx.

    Mercado goes on DL

    Joe Roa and Rheal Cormier have been saved. While Roa pitched very well in his start Tuesday night, Hector Mercado followed him poorly, and may have fallen behind in the race to see who would be replaced on the roster by Brandon Duckworth. But none of that matters now...

    According to Lee Sinins's ATM Report this afternoon:

    10) The Phillies placed P Hector Mercado on the 15 day DL and called up P Eric Junge.

    So, Roa and Cormier will keep their spots on the roster, Mercado will rest on the DL, and Junge will go back down to Scranton this weekend.

    Minors Report

    Every once in a while, I am going to try to highlight some of the Phillies prospects at each level and provide an update on how they are progressing. Let's give it a shot, starting with AAA Scranton/Wilkes-Barre...

    AAA: Scranton/Wilkes-Barre

    Travis Chapman, 3B: The 3B who caught the Phillies eye with an outstanding 2002 in AA was actually left available in the Rule 5 draft this offseason. He was selected by Cleveland and traded to Detroit, who held on to him through most of spring training. Travis had a weak spring, and after no deal could be worked out with the Tigers, was sent back to Philly. With Scott Rolen in St. Louis, and Chase Utley back at 2B, Chapman looks to follow up his 2002 season and become a legitimate prospect.

    2003 stats: 12 G, .297/.409/.622, 3 HR, 8 RBI, 5 BB, 4 K

    Chase Utley, 2B: Back at 2B and feeling more comfortable in the field, this prospect (#7 on The Prospect Report's Phillies Top 10) got a taste of the big leagues early in the season (1 AB, 1 K). He's playing everyday in Scranton, and is off to a decent start. Pitch selection needs some improvement.

    2003 stats: 10 G, .333/.395/.410, 4 RBI, 4 BB, 11 K

    Ryan Madson, RHP: After a 16-4, 3.20 campaign at Reading in 2002, Madson (#4 on The Prospect Report's Phillies Top 10) moved up to AAA this season. Only one start so far.

    2003 stats: 1-0, 3.60, 5 IP, 4 H, 2 ER, 1 BB, 4 K

    More to come...

    Myers looking for some support

    After winning a thrilling game Tuesday night, the Phillies dropped a frustrating game to the Marlins last night, 3-1. Brad Penny was spectacular for Florida last night, scattering only two Bobby Abreu singles in seven innings of shutout baseball. Brett Myers wasn't bad for the Phils (7 IP, 3 ER, 7 H), he just wasn't good enough. But is it an issue of Myers -- who struggled all spring -- not being good enough, or is it an issue of support?

    The Phillies are scoring runs at a pretty good pace -- 95 runs over 15 games, 6.3 per outing. That 95 runs leads the National League, even after St. Louis's outburst yesterday. So in general, the Phillies starters have gotten a good deal of run support. For example, Randy Wolf is second in the NL in run support, at 10.70 per game. Kevin Millwood is third, at 9.60. Vicente Padilla is fifth, at 8.84. And then you have Brett Myers...

    Myers has been good to great in his three starts this season: in his season debut, he battled Kris Benson for six innings, giving up one unearned run on four hits. He followed that up with a so-so effort against the Reds, giving up four runs in six innings. Then last night, the youngster gave up the three runs on seven hits in seven innings. An average offensive output by the offense would give him wins in at least two of those three games. A little luck, and he could be 2-0 or 3-0. Instead, the loss last night drops him to 0-2. Why?

    Because the potent Phillies offense turns anemic when Myers is on the mound. 10.70 runs? No. 9.60? Nah. 8.84? Not even close. Myers's run support is an almost invisible 0.47 runs per outing -- last among qualified NL pitchers. Bump that up to 3.47 and he might be 1-1 or 2-0. Instead, he hits the bench at 0-2, deserving much better.

    So can we expect the runs to come again today at 3:05 in the series finale, when Kevin Millwood takes the mound against Carl Pavano (5.30 ERA)? We can hope so...

    Tuesday, April 15, 2003

    Duck, duck, goose

    Marcus Hayes, of the Philadelphia Daily News, offers up an article today wondering who gets the boot when Brandon Duckworth returns to action this weekend. Duckworth is expected to make a short rehab appearance at Double-A Reading tomorrow night before being activated in time to pitch in Atlanta on Sunday.

    Hayes offers up three names for demotion: Joe Roa, who has struggled while filling Duckworth's rotation spot; lefty swingman Hector Mercado; and lefty specialist Rheal Cormier. Hayes hesitates on predicting who will go, explaining that there are still five more days before a choice has to be made. But I'll give it a shot.

    Of the three, Roa has fared the worst so far. In his 2 starts, he has given up 10 runs in only seven innings, including five in the first inning of the home opener. He has a good K/BB ratio, but has allowed 14 hits in those seven innings.

    Mercado has faired slightly better, although the stats really aren't there to support that. He has a 5.63 ERA and has allowed 12 baserunners in eight innings, but much of that was in mop-up work after Roa struggled to get out of the second in his first start.

    Cormier's struggles have been well documented, and even discussed here on this site earlier in the season. His 7.11 ERA is ugly, but he has allowed only 5 baserunners in 4.1 innings since being hammered by the Marlins in the final game of the season's first series. There are a number of reasons to keep Cormier -- the same ones that have kept him around here to this point. He is on the last year of a 3-year, $7+ million contract, and that is money that the Phils don't want to choke on. Secondly, there are many still out there (I am obviously not one of them) who think that Cormier will be able to improve his game now that he is reunited with pitching coach Joe Kerrigan. The two were together in Montreal and Boston where Cormier had a few of his better seasons.

    So that leaves a toss-up between Roa and Mercado. My money would be on Mercado sticking around, as he has proven effective in the swing/long relief role over the last season plus. Roa, a long-time journeyman who found magic in a bottle last year in AAA, may have lost that magic. He believes that he has found a mechanical flaw that has caused some of his early-season struggles, but I believe he'll be the odd man out when Duckworth is ready to return.

    Of course, there are a few days before that happens. They could always prove me wrong.

    Padilla busts his belt, the Marlins; almost gets his arm busted

    Vicente Padilla had his third straight good start for the Phillies last night, going an exciting 5 1/3 innings, giving up two runs on three hits -- all in the first -- while striking out seven and walking three, in the Phillies 5-2 win over the Marlins last night. But it wasn't his pitching that provided the excitement.

    After getting touched up in the first, Padilla settled down and showed his stuff...and then some. While throwing strike one to a batter with two outs in the top of the fourth, Padilla busted his belt. A new one was taken to him, and he exchanged the belts on the field. Padilla buckled down, so to speak, and threw the next two strikes to end the inning.

    Batting in the bottom of the frame, Padilla took a A.J. Burnett 92-MPH fastball off his left forearm:

    "I thought it was broken," Padilla said afterward, the limb swollen, an angry light crimson.

    But Padilla remained in the game to run the bases, pitch the fifth, and face two batters in the sixth before being taken to Jefferson Hospital for X-rays (which were negative). He is expected to make his next start.

    Down one early in the game, Jim Thome smacked a line drive off the wall in center field that evaded the Florida fielders, allowing Thome to cruise into third with a stand-up, two-run triple. And while those were the deciding runs of the ball game, it can be argued that Thome saved the game with his glove:

    With two out in the seventh, the Marlins trailing by a run, Gonzalez ripped a shot to deep left-centerfield. He stumbled and fell between second and third, watching Ricky Ledee field the ball and fire it to shortstop Jimmy Rollins. Rollins tossed it to Thome, who had trailed the runner to second base. Thome tagged Gonzalez, giving Little League coaches all over America a teaching tool for their charges.

    "You work on that stuff all spring," Thome said, beaming, his offense forgotten.

    Marcus Hayes, Philadelphia Daily News

    I thought we signed him for his bat...The Phils, meanwhile, are on a three-game winning streak.

    Monday, April 14, 2003

    Hall Bull

    "Well, that and the fact that it's maybe the most ridiculous, implausible thing I've ever heard."

    This about sums up my feelings on the whole Hall of Fame/Bull Durham *stuff*.

    Maybe it's the Vet?

    From Jayson Stark's recent Really Wild Pitches article, in reference to Pat Burrell's two-homer effort Wednesday night against Braves P Greg Maddux:

    Burrell became only the sixth player ever to hit two homers in a game off Maddux, according to SABR genius David Vincent.

    If my memory serves me correctly, the fifth player to hit two homers in a game off Maddux was none other than Scott Rolen, then of the Philles, at the Vet on Sept. 17, 2001. I'm thinking he should pitch here more often...as an opponent, of course.

    Roster Moves/Injury Recap

    -- CF Marlon Byrd has been placed on the DL with a lacerated knee. Byrd was spiked by Reds' C Jason LaRue on Sunday while being tagged out at the plate. The play left a 4-inch gash on Byrd's leg; he didn't know how many stitches were used to close it up:

    "I know they ran out," he said.

    Byrd's move to the DL is more precautionary than anything else, and the Phillies are handling it as they have with all of their early-season injuries. OF Jason Michaels, who had been rehabbing in Clearwater, is expected to be activated to take Byrd's spot on the roster.

    -- P Turk Wendell will make his long-awaited return to the Phillies roster today -- that's long-awaited by Turk, not necessarily the fans. The original plan was for Wendell to remain on rehab until he was able to throw on back-to-back days, but he has been throwing so well, the team decided to move up the timetable. Larry Bowa will be treating Wendell with kid gloves for a while, and doesn't plan to use him in back-to-back games until the weather warms up a bit. P Eric Junge is expected to be sent to AAA Scranton to make room on the roster.

    -- P Kevin Millwood showed few effects of the groin injury that pushed back his start while pitching six innings of four-hit baseball on Saturday in Cincinnati. Millwood gave up three runs, two earned, while offering up home runs to Austin Kearns (his third in two days) and Adam Dunn. Millwood will make his next start Thursday night against Florida, barring any more rotation shuffling with the return of Brandon Duckworth.

    -- 3B David Bell actually did return to the lineup Thursday night at the Vet against Atlanta and played all weekend, after missing a few games due to back spasms. Bell is 3-15 with 6 runs and 2 RBI since returning Thursday night.

    -- P Brandon Duckworth continues to look good in his rehab stint in Clearwater. No reason indication as to when he may return.

    A Baker's Dozen

    I hate it when life interferes with baseball. Real-life took me away from writing for the last three days, and also kept me away from the TV yesterday long enough to miss the Phillies 13-run 4th inning yesterday -- the largest one-inning outburst in team history; appropriately, I turned the game on in the 5th. The Phillies took yesterday's game 13-1, and the win gave the Phillies another series victory as they took the last two of three from the Reds in Cincinnati. This was the third time in this young season that the Phillies offense had put double-digits up on the scoreboard, but unlike the other two games, this one was due to patience at the plate and timely hitting. In the big inning, the Phillies had only six hits -- and walked SEVEN times. Only four other teams (Yankees, Cubs, Rockies, Giants) had as many as seven walks in their entire game yesterday. Here's a recap of the inning:

    - B Abreu walked.
    - J Thome singled to right, B Abreu to second.
    - P Burrell doubled to deep left, B Abreu scored, J Thome to third.
    - D Bell grounded out to second, J Thome scored, P Burrell to third.
    - M Lieberthal popped out to second.
    - R Ledee intentionally walked.
    - R Wolf singled to right, P Burrell scored, R Ledee to second.
    - J Rollins walked, R Ledee to third, R Wolf to second.
    - P Polanco walked, R Ledee scored, R Wolf to third, J Rollins to second.
    - B Abreu walked, R Wolf scored, J Rollins to third, P Polanco to second.
    - J Thome singled to center, J Rollins and P Polanco scored, B Abreu to second.
    - S Sullivan relieved R Dempster.
    - P Burrell walked, B Abreu to third, J Thome to second.
    - D Bell walked, B Abreu scored, J Thome to third, P Burrell to second.
    - M Lieberthal singled to center, J Thome and P Burrell scored, D Bell to second.
    - R Ledee homered to right, D Bell and M Lieberthal scored.
    - R Wolf struck out swinging.

    If you read that carefully, you would notice that the Phillies scored as many runs from bases-loaded walks as they did from home runs, and that 10 of the 13 runs came with 2 outs. Much was made last season of the Phillies' inability to hit in the clutch, specifically with the bases loaded. Early this season, they are excelling in such situations:

    2 outs, RISP:

    BA: .294, 7th in MLB
    SLG: .456, 7th
    OBP: .484, 2nd
    OPS: .940, 7th
    BB: 23, 1st
    R: 42, 1st (Boston is 2nd with 27)
    RBI: 35, 1st

    Bases Loaded:

    BA: .333, 12th in MLB
    SLG: .429, 19th
    OBP: .462, 4th
    OPS: .890, 12th
    BB: 5, 1st
    R: 25, 1st
    RBI: 20, tied 1st (CHC)

    The averages and slugging numbers are nothing to write home about, but the OBP and BB are helping to get the job done. In 91 plate appearances with 2 out and runners in scoring position, the Phillies have reached base 43 times and scored 42 runs. In 26 PA with the bases full, they have reached 12 times with 25 runs scoring. That's almost a run per plate appearance with the bases loaded -- I am not sure what the major league average is on that one, but I would be interested in finding out. But while the big sluggers are taking most of April to find their power strokes, the patience and clutch hitting are helping the Phillies win.

    In their 7 wins, the Phils are averaging 10.4 runs on 12.4 hits; in their 5 losses, 2.4 runs on 7 hits. I wonder what happens when we find some middle ground.

    Next up: a 4-game homestand with the Marlins.

    Thursday, April 10, 2003

    Tuesday's Game

    I did not cover much of Tuesday's game thanks to the fact that I was sick in bed yesterday. But Mike over at Mike's Baseball Rants did, and covered the key points in the game very nicely. Check it out...

    Injury Notes

    -- Millwood will be skipped tonight, as he continues to rest a sore groin. Joe Roa will pitch tonight, Brett Myers tomorrow in Cincinnati, and Hector Mercado will make the start Saturday, as Larry Bowa juggles his rotation to give Millwood time to heal and Duckworth time to return. Millwood is tentatively scheduled to go Sunday in Cincy.

    -- 3B David Bell was held out both Tuesday and Wednesday nights as a precautionary measure. Bowa blames the home turf on both Bell's back and Millwood's groin:

    "With the weather and the turf right now...I'm not going to play him on this stuff."

    With the weather staying cold here in Philly today, don't expect to see Bell back out at 3rd until tomorrow night in Cincinnati.

    -- OF Jason Michaels will begin a rehab stint in Clearwater today.

    -- According to the Philadelphia Inquirer: "By shuffling the rotation, the Phillies have probably set things up so that righthander Brandon Duckworth can return from the disabled list and pitch next Thursday against the Florida Marlins."

    Non-injury note:

    -- P Brad Baisley, the Phillies' 2nd round pick in 1998, was waived in order to remove him from the 40-man roster. Baisley is recovering from shoulder surgery and is not expected to pitch until mid- to late-summer. GM Ed Wade is hoping that Baisley will slide through waivers and be assigned the minor league roster.

    Someone turned the power on...

    After a first week of the season in which the entire Phillies roster had fewer home runs (3, one each by Abreu, Bell, and Lieberthal) than Alex Gonzalez (the Florida version, 4), and a game in which the Phils managed to grab a victory despite only four hits all night, some keys bats in the lineup woke up last night.

    The Phillies followed Tuesday night's exciting (and freezing cold) 10-inning victory with a 16-2 thumping of the Braves and the struggling Greg Maddux last night. Pat Burrell, whose 10th inning single Tuesday night may have woken up his slumbering bat, went 3-6 with his first two homers of the season and 5 RBI. His first home run was a 2-run shot in the first inning which staked the home team to an early 3-0 advantage. His second was a 3-run shot that pretty much iced the game, making it 9-1 in the 6th. Not to be outdone, Jim Thome hit two home runs of his own -- a 3-run shot to left center in the 7th that broke an 0-13 hitting stretch, and a 2-run bomb to left in the 8th -- and finished with 5 RBI. Once again, the table was set by Rollins and Polanco, who each had three hits and scored a total of five runs. Polanco was on base five times last night, as he added a fielder's choice to his three hits, and also reached base on a strikeout-wild pitch.

    Vicente Padilla had a brilliant performace last night, as he spread 10 hits over seven innings, allowing only two runs while striking out nine and walking none. Yet the pitching story of the night was Maddux's continued struggles. The former Cy Young winner lasted 5 2/3 innings last night, and was touched up for 10 runs (seven earned) on 12 hits. He also gave up two more home runs, both to Burrell. Amazingly, Maddux saw his ERA -- which at the start of the game sat at 11.00 -- rise minimally to 11.05.

    Maddux claims that location is his problem right now, and that there is nothing to be concerned about physically. But the Braves have to worry about the state of their pitching (when was the last time you heard that statement?) with a struggling Maddux, and with Paul Byrd -- the 17-game winner picked up from KC this winter -- set to have surgery on his injured elbow.

    The Phillies, meanwhile, are riding high at 5-3, in first place in the NL East, and set to attempt a sweep of the Braves tonight at 7:05. The expected pitching matchup of Millwood vs. Byrd has been scrapped completely; while Byrd is set to undergo surgery, Millwood will continue to be held out for precautionary measures. Joe Roa is expected to make his first appearance since lasting just two innings in the home opener last Friday.

    Tuesday, April 08, 2003

    A Brave New World

    The Phillies can make it a brave new world for themselves, and make a statement to the league, in the upcoming 3-game series versus Atlanta. Randy Wolf (1-0, 1.50) pitches the series opener tonight against Jason Marquis (0-0, 3.38), and former Brave Kevin Millwood stresses the importance of this early-season matchup:

    "We want to come out and show them - and ourselves, a little - that we're for real and ready to contend for this division," Millwood said.

    While other members of the team are downplaying the importance of this series --

    "We just want to win two out of every three, whether it's the Braves the Brewers or whoever we play," said Wolf, who pitched six strong innings in an 8-2 win at Florida on Wednesday. "You don't want to get up for the Braves more than anybody else."

    -- others agree with Millwood:

    "A lot of times, the way you play in April can make or break you later in the season," Thome said. "It doesn't decide your season, but it can set the tone."

    While I don't think that the Phillies need a sweep in the series, 2 out of 3 is a must. Keep in mind, this is a team that went 9-18 last April and could never recover. Losing this series, at home, could deflate the team and its high expectations. Riding a low into Cincinnati, a team stinging from losing 4 of 6 to open their new park, would not be a good thing. More importantly, the Phillies need to make that statement to the Braves that this is a team that is not going to back down. The Phillies won only 7 of 18 meetings between the two teams last season; to overtake the Braves this year, the Phillies need to go toe-to-toe with Atlanta, and taking 2 of 3 (or better yet, sweeping) this series will put the Phils on track for a good April and send a message to the Braves that they have some serious competition this year.

    The pitching matchups:

    Tuesday: Wolf (1-0, 1.50) vs. Marquis (0-0, 3.38)
    Wednesday: Padilla (0-1, 4.50) vs. Maddux (0-2, 11.00) -- Maddux will be going on three days rest
    Thursday: Millwood (1-0, 3.00) vs. Byrd (NR) -- Both pitchers probable due to injuries

    Around the Blogging World...

  • Jason has a very good Cubs news site up and running -- check out The Clark & Addison Chronicle, and find out why Juan Cruz should not be used as a closer.

  • Aaron of Aaron's Baseball Blog and Kent and Craig of The Batter's Box had an on-going chat during Sunday's Blue Jays-Twins game from the Metrodome. Each posted all 3-plus hours of the enjoyable and amusing chat. It's a great idea, and it sounds like all three of them had some fun.

  • Mike of Mike's Baseball Rants celebrated the 30th anniversary of the DH by bringing together some "expert" opinions on the topic, and then adding his own. It's a good read, so go check it out.

    Quite honestly, I am not sure where I stand on the DH topic. Sure, I have an opinion on everything else -- grass, open air fields; day games; double-headers; no interleague play -- but I am torn on the issue of the DH. I often think that I am against it -- come on, how else are you going to see Robert Person hit two homers and drive in seven?? But then I think about some of the better DHs we've seen, and wonder whether we would have seen them at their best if we forced them to play in the field. Would Edgar Martinez have put up the numbers he has if he had to play 3B (or 1B) every day? Would Harold Baines have played anywhere near as long (my guess is very much a no)? Would the careers of Dave Winfield and Paul Molitor have lasted as long? Would Ellis Burks still be playing today? What would happen if Roger Clemens had to bat every fifth day?

    I think the DH should be scrapped, I think about these things, and suddenly I am not so sure anymore. The only thing I do know is that I fully believe that both leagues should play under the same rules. Especially in today's game -- where umpires go back and forth between the two leagues, where interleague play takes up most of the summer, where the All-Star game will determine home-field in the World Series (don't get me started on that one) -- having different rules in different leagues puts one league at a disadvantage. Think of the World Series -- it's not enough of a disadvantage when the Angels travel to Pac Bell; now, they have to take one of their everyday hitters out of the lineup and let Ramon Ortiz hit. Or Atlanta is at Yankee Stadium -- Bobby Cox has to shorten his already short bench and stick Keith Lockhart in at DH (okay, that's a dumb move no matter how you look at it, but...). Whether you go with the DH or without, make the rules the same and put everyone on the same level already.

    But that's my two cents...check out Mike's and let him know your thoughts.

  • Monday, April 07, 2003

    Baseball Heaven

    Is this Heaven?

    No, it's Iowa.

    Well, I'm not in Heaven or Iowa, although I used to live there. I am at work, at my desk, and experiencing my own baseball heaven. If you haven't signed up for MLB.com's Gameday Audio, you are missing out. Very much worth the $19.95 for a season's worth of games. Where else can you sit at work and listen to Skip Carey followed by the soothing voice of Vin Scully.

    If only there were more day games throughout the year...but that's another issue altogether. Go sign up now!

    Roster Notes

    -- Millwood reports no lingering effects from the injury that limited him to three innings on Saturday, and expects to make his next start on Thursday against his former teammates.

    -- David Bell missed yesterday's game due to lower back spasms. Bell started to feel them during the 7th inning of Saturday's game, and they were worse yesterday. The team is attributing the spasms to the change in weather from Florida to Philly, and the rock-hard turf, still frozen this early in the season. He should be in the lineup tomorrow night.

    -- Chase Utley, who struck out in his major-league debut on Friday, was sent down to AAA Scranton Saturday night when the Phillies called up P Eric Junge (pronounced "Young"). After pouring through the bullpen Friday and Saturday, the Phils felt they might need the extra arm. Junge pitched one inning yesterday, giving up one run on two hits.

    -- Brandon Duckworth is progressing nicely. He pitched 4 1/3 innings of one-hit ball yesterday on a rehab assignment with Single-A Clearwater. He is expected to make another rehab start before being activated.

    -- Jason Michaels has started taking batting practice in Clearwater again. He is expected to get some rehab time in at Single-A, before being placed on the AAA roster.

    The weekend that was...

    I picked the wrong game to go to this weekend. First off, early in the week, they had predicted a temperature near 70, and sunshine all day. I think we were lucky if it got to 40, and it was windy. The guy behind me described it as "a beautiful January day". Sounds about accurate...but there is a reason they don't play baseball in January. I froze my tail off all day since I was only wearing a shirt and a light jacket. That's what I get for trusting the weatherman, huh?

    The pregame festivities were appropriate for the time and the situation. I will not recap them, as Jonathan at At Home Plate has already done a wonderful job. (And he had better seats than I did!) The Phillies and Pirates honored the teams from 1971 all weekend by wearing throwback uniforms -- the Phillies in their maroon pinstriped home uniforms, the Pirates in their all-yellow "mustard packs", complete with the pillbox caps. The problems (other than being subjected to the yellow uniforms) began when the game finally started. Starter Joe Roa lasted only two innings, giving up six runs on six hits, including Reggie Sanders's first-inning Grand Slam. (By the way, I have now seen four Grand Slams live, and they were hit by the big-name foursome of Scott Rolen, Reggie Sanders, Wilton -- not Vladimir -- Guerrero, and Robert Person. Very sad...) The Phillies and fans still held out hope in the second inning, despite already being down 6-0. That was because the new fan favorite was coming to the plate. With the theme from Superman playing in the background, Jim Thome stepped to the plate and drilled the first pitch high off the wall in left-center field for a triple. I have never heard the Vet rocking like that, even when the fans were raining boos towards the field. Fans were on their feet, rally towels were being waved, the stadium was rocking, and we were down 6-0.

    The Phillies, of course, lost the home opener 9-1. Roa got pulled after two; Mercado did an admirable job giving up only three runs while giving Larry Bowa five tough innings out of the 'pen. Meanwhile, the offense was anemic, getting only three hits.

    Then came Saturday...

    The bats woke up on Saturday, smacking 19 hits in route to a 16-1 thrashing of the Pirates. Jimmy Rollins went 5-6, raising his average from .158 to .320 in the span of nine innings. Both he and Polanco scored four runs each, setting the table as the Phillies hope they will all season. Mike Lieberthal crushed his 100th career home run. But again, pitching was a problem. Kevin Millwood lasted only three innings due to "groin discomfort". He removal was more of a precautionary move, and he does expect to make his next start on Thursday against the Braves. Once again, the bullpen did an admirable job, shutting down the Pirates for six innings.

    The Phillies finally got a solid starting pitching performance on Sunday...and wasted it. Brett Myers, who struggled all spring, threw six very strong innings yesterday, allowing just one unearned run on four hits in six innings, punching out 11 Pirates. But while the Phillies got eight hits, including three from Polanco, they could not manage to push a run across, and fell back to .500 after the first week of the season.

    Next up: Atlanta, at the Vet, Tuesday - Thursday. Tickets still available...but I'll be at home, thawing out.

    Friday, April 04, 2003

    On my way to the Vet...

    Well, the Phillies dropped the series finale in Florida yesterday, by an 8-3 margin. I guess hopes of 162-0 were a little excessive, huh? The Phillies didn't look bad yesterday, but they didn't look overly good, either. David Bell hit the Phillies first homerun of the season, but also managed to strike out three times. Jim Thome only went 2 for 4, lowering his average to a measly .636. Why did we sign this guy, anyway?!?

    Vicente Padilla had an "alright" performance, giving up three runs on six hits over six innings. It was Rheal Cormier, whose spring troubles were discussed here a while back, who imploded yesterday -- five runs on five hits in two innings. Not a great debut for the lefty.

    The Phils open at home today against the Pirates in the 33rd and final home opener at the Vet. Gates open at 11:35, pregame festivities start at 1, game starts at 1:33. I am leaving in an hour. I'll see you there, up in the 700 level.

    Thursday, April 03, 2003

    Why stats don't mean anything...

    ...this early in the season. From Lee Sinins's ATM Report the other day:

    2) Devil Rays SS Rey Ordonez homered yesterday. His 1 HR for the season
    already allows this year to tie 5 other seasons for his 2nd highest figure,
    behind his unheard of 3 HR season in 2001.

    At the moment, Ordonez's .700 SLG is .319 above the current AL league
    average. By comparison, he's only had a .319 SLG twice and has a .305
    career mark.

    First of all, I'm going to jump out on a limb here and say that Rey won't reach his career high. Second, when your team HR leaderboard looks like this:

    T. Shumpert, 1
    R. Ordonez, 1
    T. Lee, 1
    C. Crawford, 1

    ...you have issues. And yes, it's that T. Lee. Talk to me in June and let's see what that board looks like then...

    Linking makes the world go 'round...

    Well, it at least temporarily drives up traffic. *grin*

  • It's good to see John back up and running over at Only Baseball Matters. He always offers an entertaining viewpoint on baseball in general, and the Giants in particular. His love for Livan has no bounds. He's also very good at sharing new sights he has found -- this morning's offering attracted me to the point that I have added it to my list of suggested sites: Kent is the Coach, and Jordan is the GM, as the Batter's Box looks at the Blue Jays, and offers "Opinions and observations about the Pastime, from a Toronto perspective". Head on up to Baseball North, and check them out.

  • Carl, of bigfool.com, e-mailed me this morning to suggest that if last night's performance by Randy Wolf was "shaky", he'll take the results all year. I'll agree with that -- I had no problem with the results; I was taking issue with the Philly papers' description of his performace as "solid". But I'll take a run on three hits over six innings any day.

    Carl also suggested that I get a comment tool other than e-mail. I have been looking for one, but he pointed me in a good direction. For now, I will be trying out Enetation, and we'll see how that works. If you have a comment, share it with the link below. Thank you, Carl, for the good suggestion. Oh, and I liked the shrine to John Kruk -- nice touch!

  • Home opener is a sell out

    When told that the home opener was being considered a sellout, C Mike Lieberthal quipped, "What, are there going to be fireworks?" Logical question, but nope -- just about 55,000 fans waiting to see the new-look Phillies, and enjoy one last home opener at the Vet. Or are they after rally towels??

    Battery batters Fish

    Another trip under the Florida lights, another impressive victory. The Phillies took their second straight from the Marlins behind six strong innings from Randy Wolf and a pretty good night from his catcher, Mike Lieberthal. Wolf went six, giving up one run on three hits, while striking out two. The game summaries all around the 'net praise Wolf for a strong performance, but in my eyes, it was a shaky one early. Wolf walked leadoff man Luis Castillo, who was later thrown out trying to swipe second on a strong throw by Lieberthal. In the second, Wolf gave up a hard hit leadoff double to Derrek Lee, who was later doubled off on a liner to center. While those were the only two hits Wolf gave up until the seventh, he still looked shaky. He fell behind quite a few hitters, ran a few 3-ball counts, and seemed to be aiming his pitches rather than just letting them fly, and seemed lucky to get out of the first few innings unscathed. As he found his comfort level, however, he did become more effective.

    Lieberthal, on the other hand, was solid from the start. He went 3 for 5, with 2 runs and 3 breath-taking RBI. When I say breath-taking, I mean that Lieby was left gasping for breath. With the bases loaded in the 6th, Lieberthal sent a long fly ball off the wall in left. The bases cleared, and Lieberthal -- the fleet-footed one -- chugged 270 feet around the bases for his first triple of the year, giving the Phils a 5-0 lead at that point.

    The two teams will go at it again today at 1:35pm -- Vicente Padilla vs. Mark Redman.

    Wednesday, April 02, 2003

    Goin' fishin'?

    I've got another new site to add to my list of links -- Erik has started a Marlins' blog, Fish or Cut Bait. He doesn't appear to be expecting much this season, and does not appear to be a big fan of skipper Jeff Torborg. Check out his site, and remind him that the Phillies will only be in town for two more Marlin-beating days. *wink*

    Lucky numbers?

    Jim Thome came to town and claimed his number 25. David Bell comes to work everyday with the number 4 on his back. Jimmy Rollins was one of a handful of guys that changed their number in the offseason, as he went from 11 to his lucky number 6. I've heard of guys changing their number in the offseason, but never between spring training and Opening Day. Yet, that appears to be what Placido Polanco did.

    While watching spring training games, I saw Polanco wearing the same number 23 that he wore after coming over from St. Louis last season. Even the roster listing in Monday's paper had him with 23. Yet, when I got home on Monday and flipped on the game, Placido was wearing number 27. I have not been able to find any mention of this change, much less a reason. If anyone out there has any news on this, I'd appreciate it. It will ease my curious mind.

    Game 2, at Florida: Wolf vs. Pavano, 7:05pm

    Yesterday was on off day for the Phillies, but 2/5ths of the starting rotation was on display in Clearwater, as Brandon Duckworth was making a rehab start with the minor league squad, while Brett Myers was his opposition. Some good news, some bad, and some unexpected (from Bill Conlin's column in the Daily News).

    The good: Duckworth was on a 40-pitch count. And after he needed just 36 pitches to retire nine hitters in three perfect innings, Brandon was excused. He threw strike one on each hitter, struck out three and mixed nine dazzling changeups with 23 fastballs and four curves. Better yet, Duckworth felt no vestiges of the sharp pain in the area just under his right elbow that caused him to walk away from an 0.00 ERA, clutching his arm while Bowa and his staff fibrillated.

    "Everything felt really good," he said. "I'm excited how the arm felt and with my location and everything as far as my mechanics."

    The bad: Myers allowed one run on five hits. That was the good news on Myers. Once again, he was wild in the strike zone.

    The unexpected, Part 1: Turk Wendell, on a 25-pitch count, retired five straight hitters and left with two outs in the fifth.

    The unexpected, Part 2: The most unhittable pitches of the night were not thrown by Duckworth or Myers. They were thrown by 6-4, 225-pound righthander Taylor Buchholz, 21, whose stuff was so alive the hitters couldn't hit him and a young Dominican catcher who had never caught under the lights before couldn't catch him.

    Duckworth is still on track to be back after his DL stint is up. Myers is scheduled to pitch at home on Sunday. If he doesn't make some improvements soon, however, it sounds like Joe Roa could be staying in the rotation longer than expected.

    Tuesday, April 01, 2003

    Some history, first-person...

    Alex Belth has posted another great interview over at Bronx Banter, this one with the legendary Buck O'Neil. O'Neil shares his thoughts on a little bit of everything -- Curt Flood, music, baseball today, the great players he played with, and today's Royals -- no connection between the last two. It's an entertaining read, so I suggest you check it out.

    Adding links...

    A couple of links to add, now that Blogger has decided to allow me to post...

  • Steve is building a pretty good blog about the New York Mets, dedicated to the wonderful Ed Kranepool. Check out The Eddie Kranepool Society.

  • The return of the baseball season offers a welcome addition to my e-mail inbox every morning. The Billy-Ball Daily goes inning by inning, offering up a unique perspective of the day's baseball news. Head on over, and let Billy know you found him here.

    Both links have been added to the list on the left...

  • Game 1 in the books

    With a little help from the Marlins' pitchers, and some more from their defense, the Phillies opened the 2003 season with an impressive 8-5 victory over the Florida Marlins. The Phillies jumped on starter Josh Beckett early and took advantage of 8 walks and 3 errors to cruise to an 8-0 lead before holding on to the victory. The Phillies new threesome of Thome, Millwood, and Bell were the catalysts: Thome went 3-4 with a run, a RBI, and a walk. Bell went 2-4 with 3 runs and some spectacular plays in the field. Meanwhile, Millwood cruised through 5 2/3 innings of 2-hit ball before being touched up by Ivan Rodriguez for a towering 2-run homer to ruin the Opening Day shutout. Carlos Silva struggled in his season debut, giving up 2 runs in 1 2/3 innings, before Terry Adams and Jose Mesa came in to close the deal. Mesa earned his first save of the year with a 1-2-3 ninth inning.

    More impressive than the individual performances, however, was the team effort. The Phillies took advantage of every opportunity given to them early, as Thome wasted no time in driving in the first baserunner of the year when he laced the first pitch he saw off the wall in right-center for a run scoring double. The aggressiveness continued as the Phils scored in each of the first four innings, including 5 runs in the third off of 2 hits and a pair of Florida errors. David Bell later scored on a passed ball that barely got away from Rodriguez.

    The Phils have an off-day today before Randy Wolf takes the mound as the Phils try to go 2-0 to start the year.

    Jeter hurt

    I'm sure many of you have seen it by now, but Derek Jeter dislocated his shoulder in an ugly collision with Blue Jays' catcher Ken Huckaby at third base last night. Jeter was trying to take an extra base when Jason Giambi grounded back to the pitcher in the top of the 3rd inning. The Blue Jays had a shift on, and third base was unmanned, with Erik Hinske playing more of a shortstop position. Jeter took off for third and slid into third headfirst -- and was actually safe -- before meeting up with Huckaby's shinguards. The heavy piece of protection drove right into Jeter's left shoulder, leaving him screaming in pain and on the turf for the better part of ten minutes. If you saw the play, you know that it did not look good, and that Jeter could be out for any significant length of time. Yankee fans everywhere -- and general baseball fans -- are hoping for a quick Jeter recovery.

    Heads...ummm, I win?

    One of the early surprises yesterday was Kansas City's 3-0 win over the White Sox. The Royals are going with youth, but it paid off yesterday as Runelvys Hernandez pitched six innings of 2-hit ball, SS Angel Berroa drove in the go-ahead run, DH Ken Harvey went 2-4, and reliever Mike MacDougal got the save.

    What caught my eye, however, was the fact that Hernandez was given the opening day start because he won a coin flip with rookie Jeremy Affeldt. No truth the rumor that manager Tony Pena got the job by losing a coin toss.