5:39 PM PDT, July 14, 2012
PHILADELPHIA — Let me make one thing clear right now: This idea Charlie Manuel has is out there.
Nonetheless, it goes to show you how desperate he is, how discouraged he is and how much he wants to avoid a repeat performance of the mess that is the 2012 Phillies bullpen.
When spring training rolls around next February, the Phillies manager has visions of changing how his relievers train and prepare and how they would be used once games begin.
He wants to say sayonara to guys being able to pitch only two consecutive days, and instead, he hopes everyone in his bullpen will be capable of throwing more pitches and they'd be built to throw at least three, if not four days, in a row.
"Geared kind of like a boxer," Manuel said. "If he goes 10 rounds, he's going to train for 15 or 20. My bullpen guys, instead of throwing 30 pitches, he'd be a 45- or 50-pitch guy, at least. String guys out."
The thought process, of course, is nothing new. Manuel said he handled things this way during his managerial days in the minor leagues. And based on his track record, it's hard to argue that it didn't work.
In 1985, he took Double-A Orlando to the Southern League playoffs and was co-manager of the year. Seven years later, Manuel guided the Colorado Spring Sky Sox (Triple-A) to the Pacific Coast League title and was named the PCL manager of the year. The following season, he led the Charlotte Knights (Triple-A) to the International League crown. Both of his Triple-A teams had the best records in their respective leagues.
"Yeah, that's old-school mentality," Manuel said. "When I managed in the minor leagues, that's how we used to set ours up. That'd be hard for me to go back and manage in the minor leagues nowadays because they wouldn't let me manage the way I did."
Most bullpens these days have at least one reliever capable of throwing 45-50 pitches. Right now, Kyle Kendrick is that guy for the Phillies. In fact, because he's just been removed from the rotation, Kendrick, if needed, would be able to throw in the 75-85 range during the next week. But as time drags on, unless the club continues to keep Kendrick that stretched out, his maximum pitch count will undoubtedly drop significantly.
Understand that this scenario is coming in a season in which the Phillies bullpen is one of the worst in baseball. They've lost three relievers to season-ending injuries, they've designated another one for assignment and in turn are relying on young, inexperienced pitchers in pressure situations they have no business being in.
That's not Manuel's fault. He didn't sign the aging Jose Contreras, he didn't sign the unreliable Chad Qualls and he certainly had no way of knowing that Michael Stutes and David Herndon would miss the majority of the season. He couldn't have predicted that Antonio Bastardo would follow up an outstanding 2011 campaign with one in which he clearly is struggling with his confidence. And Manuel isn't the reason the Phillies don't have anyone who resembles a power arm (other than closer Jonathan Papelbon) in the bullpen.
"[Other years] we might have one guy or two guys [who are] young and new that we kind of groom along," he said. "But we've got more of those guys this year and the experience part of it is a growing aspect. Some of our kids have good talent, but they're still learning how to command and locate the ball. When you come out of the bullpen you try to be a guy that doesn't walk a lot of guys. If you have some people in your bullpen that's capable of striking people out that makes a difference, too."
Many other major league bullpens are set up that way, including the Braves, Rays and Nationals, who are loaded with hard-throwing hurlers. Surely, you aren't fond of the idea of facing Washington's Henry Rodriguez in the eighth-inning, Atlanta's gas-throwing Jonny Venters or Tampa Bay's Kyle Farnsworth.
Manuel admitted he hadn't yet talked to pitching coach Rich Dubee about this plan of attack. That will be roadblock No. 1. Others are sure to follow. Players make a gazillion more dollars than they did even 20 years ago, forget about 50 years ago when the likes of Robin Roberts and Whitey Ford threw until their arms practically fell off.
"I think it will draw some discussion," Manuel said. "Anymore, the game has changed in that aspect. Might be the investments you have in people or stuff like that. There is an argument on both sides, but I'm an old-school guy. I believe in pitchers running on the field and my pitching coach running and getting them into baseball shape."
Front office personnel are protective of the huge sums of money they have allotted for these guys. General managers, presidents and owners aren't likely to be on board with Manuel.
"We've got to be able to get the outs to stay in there multiple innings," he said.
AKA — the Phillies' current relievers aren't good enough to do that.
Not this year.
Dubee broke down the process of how bullpens are constructed these days: "You work from the back forward."
"You have a solid closer, a solid set-up guy and maybe one or two guys depending on the seventh inning and they could flip-flop in the seventh or eighth if they had to," Dubee said. "The rest of your guys? Yeah, they should be able to pitch a couple innings. We've got that here. But I mean, it's just a matter of being able to get six outs, being able to do the job."
Whatever approach the Phillies take with their relievers next year, the job those bullpen pieces do must be better than this year.
Ian Desmond (Washington Nationals) … The shortstop has raised his batting average by 12 points in the last 10 games, a stretch during which he was 14-for-36 (.389) with nine runs scored, 11 RBIs, four stolen bases and four home runs. For the year, he's hitting .287.
Chase Utley (Philadelphia Phillies) … The second baseman hasn't found his groove since coming off the disabled list. The 33-year-old is hitting only .156 (5-for-32) in his last 10 games. He has fanned eight times, has only three RBIs and scored just twice. He has no stolen bases, one walk and one home run.
1,736: Jim Thome's career walks, which his seventh all-time, three better than Hall of Famer Mickey Mantle.
Catching up with … Jim Thome
One of the greatest home run hitters ever to play the game has struggled since being traded to the Baltimore Orioles. Thome, now strictly a designated hitter, is hitting only .200 (5-for-25) in seven games since he left Philadelphia two weeks ago. He has just one RBI and three walks, but 11 strikeouts in 28 plate appearances.
Did you know?
Jimmy Rollins is involved in multiple charity events, including his JRoll's Aces program in which he brings children from disadvantaged areas excelling in the classroom to a game. … Citizens Bank is paying the Phillies $95 million over 25 years ($57.5 million for naming rights and $37.5 million for the Phillies broadcast media package). … The Phillies haven't had an outfielder with at least 18 assists in a single season since Pat Burrell had 18 in 2001. … A triple play hasn't been turned against the Phillies since Aug. 19, 2004, when Todd Pratt hit into a 5-4-3 triple play against Houston.
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