Saturday, August 29, 2009

Moyer finds niche in 'pen, Howard on fire, Lidge perfect in 9th

Jamie Moyer is thriving in his new role as long reliever and mother nature continues to haunt Pedro Martinez's effort to pitch deep into ballgames.

After an average outing against the Mets, Pedro was looking to rebound and pitch a great game against the division rival Atlanta Braves and rising star Tommy Hanson. Pedro looked excellent at the start of the game, but two rain delays forced Pedro to another early exit. Moyer pitched very well out of the 'pen again; hopefully the team won't mess with it. He really struggled all season as a starter, but has found a role he is exceeding in. With Pedro pitching fairly well and yet to showcase his full ability, and Brett Myers close to returning to the big leagues, leaving Moyer in the bullpen is a good idea and a good fit.

Ryan Howard remains on fire as his two home runs backed Pedro and Moyer, leading the Phils to a 4-2 win.

Every time it feels that yanking Brad Lidge from the closers' role is the right move, he goes out and throws an inning like he did last night; a perfect inning to pickup the save against Atlanta. It was 70's night at the ballpark and Lidge certainly pitched like it was retro night, going all the way back to his 2008 form. Lidge still has the ability, as we've seen over small stretches, but needs to harness his talent and showcase it daily as he did last season. Look at Lidge during his career. When he was bad for Houston, he was really bad. His stuff was gone and he just looked lost on the mound. Well, his stuff is still there. He's just getting behind hitters and not pitching consistent efforts night after night.

The other problem: who else can the Phils use? Ryan Madson is no closer. He's a great setup man, but they've tried using Madson as a closer and it doesn't work. Lidge is saving 74 percent of his opportunities this season, down from his career percentage of 84. Madson, on the other hand, has just four saves in nine opportunities this season, a 44 percent success rate. His career success rate is even worse at just 33 percent. Madson is a good late inning pitcher, but he doesn't have a closer's makeup. Unless the team wanted to groom Myers in his return to MLB as a closer, which is unlikely, Lidge is our guy.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Happ, Utley lead Phils to 'W'

J.A. Happ continued his rookie of the year candidacy, improving to 10-2 on the year with yet another impressive victory, defeating the Mets last night.

Happ didn't have his best stuff last night, but he made his way through eight scattered hits and held the Mets to one run over seven innings. He walked just two and had only one strikeout, but his only allowed run was largely due to a defensive lapse.

Omir Santos hit a grounder in the hole toward left with a runner at second in the second inning. Pedro Feliz dove and deflected the ball into left-center field, easily allowing the runner to score. Had Feliz let the ball go, Jimmy Rollins was in perfect position to field the ball and keep it in the infield, though it's unlikely he could have thrown Santos out. Still, in that situation, the ball has to be kept in the infield to prevent the runner from scoring in a tie game. Once Feliz decided to field the ball, he has to make the play and keep it in the infield, and should have done so. The ball deflected off his glove and way from Rollins on a play that should have been executed better.

Chase Utley came through in the sixth, after Tim Redding stifled the Phils' lineup over five shutout innings. Jerry Manuel lifted Redding heading into the sixth, and in a move that he will be criticized for, brought Pat Misch into the game. Misch promptly walked Shane Victorino and allowed the two-run homer to Utley, allowing the Phillies to take the lead as they eventually went on to win 4-1.

Brad Lidge pitched a perfect ninth inning, striking out two batters. Hopefully, as we've been saying all season at any positive sign from Lidge, this gets him back on the right track.

Pedro Martinez starts against his former team today, against the wild and unpredictable Oliver Perez. A good outing from Pedro could put the team in excellent shape to take three of four from New York with Cliff Lee toeing the rubber in tomorrow's series finale.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Hamels falters again in loss

Cole Hamels just can't figure out where his past success on the rubber has gone. He struggled against a battered Mets' lineup last night, falling to 7-8 on the season.

His changeups were hanging and his fastball was down and in the zone, a lethal combination against any Major League lineup. Hamels was and has been throwing strikes, but his location is off. Carlos Ruiz was standing, asking for the ball high and out of the zone on a particular pitch to Jeff Francoeur in the third inning. Instead, Hamels grooved a fastball right down the middle as 'Frenchy' blasted it out to left.

Hamels hit two batters, opposing pitcher Mike Pelfrey and Fernando Tatis with two strikes; as Cole continued to miss his spots. On a side note, what in the world is Pelfrey thinking in getting angry about the beaning. He threw his bat in disgust and exchanged words with Hamels as he walked down the first base line, as if Hamels would actually hit him in that spot on purpose. Just one more thing about the Mets, they don't understand the games or situations. Pelfrey should have been excited; his on base percentage rose and the beaning put a runner in scoring position who would come around to score.

The Phillies need Hamels to get it straight in time for the postseason. He was dominant on the mound last October, and the team needs to hand him the ball in crucial playoff games, knowing he is going to get the job done. Unfortunately, he's pitching like he'd barely make the team's four man playoff rotation. Cliff Lee is pitching as the ace of the staff, J.A. Happ and Joe Blanton have been excellent start after start, leaving Hamels, based on his performance, at the bottom of the rotation.

Hamels has between eight and ten starts remaining in the regular season to right the ship. If he falters, the Phils' October schedule may come to a quick and abrupt finish.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

"Two old goats" lead the Phils to victory

Pedro Martinez made an important stride last night; dealing with adversity. After allowing a home run to lead off the game, Pedro settled down nicely and pitched well in his home debut. Unfortunately for him, mother nation would limit his outing to three innings.

Jamie Moyer picked up where Pedro left off in the fourth, pitching an absolute gem in his first appearance out of the bullpen. Moyer's six scoreless innings to close out the game earned him the victory, and even more importantly, a moral victory for an aging "disheartened" veteran.

After the game, Pedro, always good for a quote said, "That's what you get when you send two old goats out there." A great line from a veteran that is fortunately not in denial.

Tonight's contestwith Arizona features a marquee pitching match-up of Cliff Lee and Dan Haren. Haren has never beaten the Phils in his three starts, and Lee is 3-0 in his three starts with the Phillies.

Good news for the upcoming four game series with the Mets: The Phillies will not face Johan Santana, who will pitch the series finale against Atlanta tomorrow. The Phils will throw Cole Hamels, J.A. Happ, Martinez and Lee at the Mets over the weekend. Also, Philly fan favorite Billy Wagner threw a bullpen session and could be activated for the series against the Phils. Should Wagner pitch in the series at Citi Field and get lit up, I wonder who will boo Wagner more, the Mets' fans or Phils' fans.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Bullpen could take on different look; Fightin Phillies magazine still available!!!!

The Phillies have a potential postseason bullpen filled with veteran starters. Jamie Moyer is already in the bullpen and could help the team in short work situations.

Pedro Martinez is not likely to make the four-man playoff rotation and may be able to dial up his 93mph fastball and add a bit of extra velocity for an inning or two; and Pedro's experience on the mound in postseason situations could prove valuable to the club.

Brett Myers is making a rehab, one inning start this afternoon for Class-A. He could return to the major league roster next month, and his experience out of the 'pen in the past could aid the team down the stretch and into the playoffs. There aren't many players on the roster who have proven themselves as capable closers, but Myers has.

It could be interesting to see that unconventional and unexpected group of guys in the bullpen, but the luxury of having too many starters could certainly benefit the club deep into October.

Be sure to pick up your copy of Fightin Phillies magazine!! It's a bargain and is written by myself and Rich Baxter of Fightin Phillies. There are excellent photographs taken by Rich and other bloggers and good feature stories that you can't find anywhere else!!

Phillies win fourth straight; good pitching recurring theme

The Phillies are hot again. A trip to Chicago was just what the doctor ordered; triggering a four game winning streak after last night's dramatic victory over Atlanta.

The Good:
The Phils won the first game against the Cubs with little offense, and the bats woke up in Pedro's debut, leading him to an easy victory in his 2009 debut. Pedro was unspectacular, but very good in his outing. Cliff Lee was excellent again in his third start as a Phil. Ryan Howard woke up on Thursday, crushing the game winning, three-run homer. Last night, he proved to be the hero again with his go-ahead home run in the ninth. Joe Blanton was solid all night, again, and the Phillies' rotation has solidified into a group of solid pitchers with consistent quality starts.

The Bad:
Brad Lidge. He picked up the save last night but in terrifying fashion. He blew Tuesday's game in Chicago, walking the lead-off hitter and allowing him to come around to score. Lidge needs to be the shutdown closer he was last season if the Phillies wish to push deep in the postseason.

Jamie Moyer. While I like the guy, as does all of Philadelphia, it was a move that had to be made. Sure he had ten wins; backed by a ton of run support. He was winning games while allowing five runs, which is not the type of pitching this organization can accept. His ERA was the highest in the National League among starters with qualifying innings pitched. The only other option was not giving Pedro an opportunity to start, but then why sign him? It wouldn't be fair to him, allowing him to rehab and make minor league appearances and not give him a chance. Pedro pitched very well in his first outing and if he keeps it up, the move to send Moyer to the bullpen was the right one. The bad part is the way he handled it. Initial reports had Moyer accepting his new assignment willingly, but that was not the case. Moyer publicly blasted the organization for "deceiving him," and he claims they assured him this type of thing would happen. No Major League player should have that sense of entitlement. If you don't produce, and have stats that rank among the worst in the league, then your job shouldn't be safe. It was a move that had to be made and will likely turn into the right one. Moyer is usually a true professional, and I hope he acts as one in the bullpen while serving in his new role.

Michael Vick: Just to touch on this briefly, the Eagles signing Vick turned Thursday into a terrible day in Philadelphia sports, despite the Phillies capping off their first sweep at Wrigley Field since 1984. Vick is a terrible quarterback, and a scumbag of a human being. He should be booed out of Philadelphia and fans should boycott the team. This is the wrong type of move for Philadelphia. Vick should be happy to flip burgers for minimum wage.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Pedro to debut on Wednesday

Pedro Martinez will make his Phillies debut Wednesday night in a start at Wrigley Field. J.A. Happ will start tomorrow's opener and Cliff Lee pitches the finale on Thursday.

Jamie Moyer was informed he will be moved to the bullpen. This has to be a difficult transition for the veteran, but being the true professional and class act that he is, Moyer accepted the assignment and will compete to help the team in any way he can.

Happ or Pedro to start Tuesday. Whaaaaaat?

Charlie Manuel has yet to announce Tuesday's starting pitcher in the series opener against the Cubs. It will be either J.A. Happ, who would be pitching on regular rest, or Pedro Martinez. Why is this even a discussion?

The Phillies are in a bit of a slump and need a win in the worst way. Why the organization wouldn't feel more confident that Happ, fresh off his complete game shutout victory over Colorado, could get the job done than Pedro Martinez is astounding.

Manuel has said that Pedro will get several opportunities to showcase his ability as a starting pitcher. That's all well and good, but it shouldn't come at a time that Happ's spot in the rotation would be skipped. Once again, Happ has been the best and most consistent starting pitcher in the Phillies' rotation; therefore giving the team the best chance of victory.

Cliff Lee and Joe Blanton are already slated to pitch games two and three respectively, so if Happ gets skipped he probably wouldn't start until the weekend series in Atlanta. Sure he'd be fresh, but why mess with his rhythm? He's on a hot streak and a routine is an important thing to a professional ballplayer, especially a pitcher. The team needs to keep Happ in his routine and keeping getting production out of his left arm.

Let the aging veteran prove he still has something later, when the team actually needs someone to fill in.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Victorino "earns" first career ejection

The Phillies were swept by the Marlins, something that shouldn't happen. But today's loss was an embarrassing one for Major League Baseball, specifically making umpires look bad.

Home-plate umpire Ed Rapuano ejected Shane Victorino in the seventh inning from behind the plate while Shane was positioned in center field. Rapuano had been inconsistent during the entire game, and called Ryan Howard out on strikes in a big situation in the bottom of the sixth on a ball that appeared low. Frustration set in for Ryan Howard and the Phils as they took the field in the seventh.

When Rapuano called a Rodrigo Lopez pitch a ball, Victorino threw his arms up in the air. Rapuano imitated the motion in Victorino's direction before tossing him from the game. Victorino clearly voiced his displeasure, sprinting in from center field and shoving Paul Bako out of the way to give Rapuano a piece of his mind.

Honestly, this is an absolute disgrace. Rapuano should be embarrassed. He was clearly looking for someone to eject from the game, and he had to look about 300 feet to find someone. His quick trigger finger, along with his inconsistent and flat out poor umpiring, took the wind out of the Phils' sails and turned the game into a blowout. Maybe Florida would have won anyway. But the umpire is not supposed to be a big story in the game and Rapuano certainly was. There is no excuse for what he did.

When has a player ever been ejected for a gesture, short of giving an umpire the finger? Major League Baseball needs to look at Rapuano's unprofessional behavior and at least have a serious talk with him, if not issuing disciplinary action. It is a poor reflection on the sport and amid talk of a looming suspension for Victorino, I see no way the league sides with Rapuano's actions in today's game and issues a suspension. If they do, that's an absolute joke as well.

Phillies have plenty of issues, and maybe Wrigley Field will help break some hitters out of their funk and start swinging the bats well again.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Harry Kalas inducted into Wall of Fame as Phils fall

Joe Blanton and Ricky Nolasco both pitched very well last night, but it was Cody Ross's solo shot, which put Florida in front 3-0 at the time, that proved to be the difference maker.

Ben Francisco made things interesting with a two-run shot of his own, his first in a Phillies' uniform, but the Phils fell to the Marlins 3-2.

Harry Kalas was inducted into the Phils' Wall of Fame last night, an honor for the Kalas family as the organization made an exception in entering Kalas into the Wall of Fame. Nothing could be more appropriate for an absolute legend in Philadelphia sports.

Well, almost nothing. I couldn't help but notice that Kalas was not placed next to his former co-worker and best friend, Richie Ashburn. Those two were made for each other, and should be on the wall together, forever.

I'm not quite sure of the rules, but I'm pretty sure they are placed on the wall in the order they were inducted. If that's the case, another exception should have been made so that they could be paired together one last time, which would have been a fitting tribute to the best tandem of broadcasters in Phillies' history. Regardless, it's still great to see Harry up there forever.

Cole Hamels looks to right the ship and get a victory against the Marlins tonight.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Happ rocks the Rox

J.A. Happ silenced talk of him moving to the bullpen last night, tossing his second career complete game shutout in a 7-0 victory over Colorado. It was also his second shutout of the season, his first coming in Toronto.

The bats woke up and supported Happ early. Pedro Feliz and Jimmy Rollins homered in the second inning, and Jayson Werth's three-run blast in the fifth put the Phils on top 7-0 to stay.

Happ was in command from the start, mixing his pitches and hitting his spots all night. His four hit, ten strikeout performance was yet another statement that he deserves a spot in the rotation.

Every time it looked as though the Rockies would scratch across a run, Happ made quality pitches and got the big strikeout or pop-up that he needed. He threw a career high 127 pitches, and impressively, 84 of them were strikes.

Happ's gem needs to be a step in the right direction and motivate the Phillies to get hot again. Cliff Lee takes the mound for the Phils this afternoon in an outstanding match-up with Colorado's Aaron Cook.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Shane to the rescue

Shane Victorino is back in the lineup tonight, looking to spark the Phils and get them back on the winning track. Colorado is red hot, coming off a sweep of the Cinncinati Reds. A good outing from Jamie Moyer would go a long way in getting the Phillies back in the 'W' column.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Lee even better than advertised

Cliff Lee didn't disappoint a single Phillies fan last night, tossing a complete game gem in his Phils debut to defeat the Giants 5-1.

Dominant from start to finish, Lee started his Phillies career with a strikeout and assists on consecutive ground outs from a quick one-two-three inning, and finished by inducing a game ending 4-6-3 double play.

He was absolutely outstanding on the mound, going five and a third innings before allowing a hit; overall allowing one run on four hits and two walks while fanning six. Lee also helped himself at the plate, entering the game with just two career hits and matching that total in one game with a clean single in the fourth and a double in the eighth that he smashed off the left-center field wall on a ball that would have been at least five rows deep in the Citizen's Bank Park seats.

Ben Francisco was smoking the ball all night, but his efforts yielded just one hit, a double in the fifth. Francisco was also robbed of a home run by AT&T Park's dimensions, smoking a ball that would have easily gone for a homer in Philadelphia.

Tonight's game features an intriguing match-up of Big Joe Blanton and wiry righty Tim Linececum. Cliff Lee will likely make his home debut on Thursday in the series finale against the Colorado Rockies.