Ryan Howard was probably the only guy to get a louder ovation than Cole Hamels during team introductions at the Phillies’ home opener.
The rehabbing slugger acknowledged the crowd with a wave, then perched himself near Charlie Manuel as the Phillies dropped their third straight game of 2012. Before the game, Howard provided slight hope when he was seen fielding some groundballs. Of course, that was all for show.
“It was good to see him [Howard],” said Manuel, “but I couldn’t put him in my lineup.”
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Without Howard, Manuel’s lineup is stuck in quick sand. They don’t have the power bats to put up crooked numbers in innings, and their attempts at small ball are failing miserably. The Phillies entered Monday with an NL-worst six runs through their first three games. They also ranked dead-last in total bases (25) and RBIs (6), while carding a pedestrian .202 batting average.
“Hitting is fun,” Manuel said. “When you’re not hitting, not getting runs, then the game’s not fun. Bottom line is we got to hit better.”
And you can’t say Manuel hasn’t tried. The Phils skipper trotted out his fourth different lineup (Juan Pierre, Placido Polanco, Jimmy Rollins, Hunter Pence, Shane Victorino, John Mayberry Jr., Carlos Ruiz, Freddy Galvis) in four games in Monday’s 6-2 loss to Miami.
Manuel used 105 different batting orders in all of 2011. The team has an off-day Tuesday before continuing the home stand at Citizens Bank Park. The lineup is still very much a self-admitted work in progress.
“I’ll go over it again,” Manuel said, before adding: “I still come up with the same names.”
While those recycled names might not be that impressive, the starting rotation has mostly lived up to the hype. Roy Halladay pitched an eight-inning shutout on Opening Day. Two days later, Cliff Lee tossed six innings of one-run ball in a 2-1 loss.
Against Miami, Cole Hamels did all he could in dealing with 24-mph wind gusts. The left-hander seemed to be hitting most of his spots, but he was pulled in the sixth after allowing an RBI double. Hamels scattered four runs — three earned — on eight hits in 5 1/3 innings.
“I felt like my stuff was really good," Hamels said. "I was able to hit my spots early, and later I felt like all four pitches were working really well. Unfortunately, I think there were a few pitches that got away.”
Hamels, who is now 1-4 with a 5.97 in season-opening starts, refused to blame the weather.
“Sometimes, in baseball, you just have to keep fighting,” he said.
That mantra was echoed by the pitcher’s offensively-challenged teammates. Victorino pointed to the Phillies’ track record of overcoming adversity and the limited sample size. Relax, Phillies fans, the sky isn’t falling. Victorino (.308) has only batted 13 times so far this season.
"Everybody’s like, ‘OK, it’s the end of the world,'” Victorino said. “There’s a lot of expectations and that’s the expectations we put on ourselves, to be winners, and unfortunately we haven’t done it in four games. We've overcome adversity throughout the years. There's no reason to press.”
Not at the plate, or on the mound. As the runs become scarcer to find than “Where’s Waldo,” the cries ring out that the Phillies’ three aces might start to crumble under the increased pressure. Remember, Halladay turned in a virtuoso performance in Game 5 of the NLDS and the team lost after leaving a fat goose egg on the scoreboard.
Hamels, who is a free-agent-to-be after the 2012 season, left to a chorus of cheers in Monday’s losing effort. He scoffed at that notion, implying that there is a clear separation of mound and plate.
“Our main focus is to get the opposing team out. We have to face their hitters. It’s not who is in our lineup that is what is going to benefit or hurt us,” Hamels said. “Things aren’t going to be easy every year. You’re not going to have the team that hits the most home runs in the league or steal the most bases in the league. Our job, as pitchers, is to go out and do our job … to pitch deep into ballgames and minimize the runs. I think that’s something we’ve always been able to do no matter what you have on the offensive side.”
WHAT WE SAW AT THE BALLPARK …
» SAVE ME... Jonathan Papelbon saw his first action out of the bullpen since his 10-pitch save on Opening Day. The closer warmed up twice in Saturday’s loss, but the Phillies opted not to use him. On Monday, he came in to face Austin Kearns in the ninth and promptly gave up a solo home run. More importantly, the suspense over his intro music was broken when Papelbon raced out to the hill with Alice in Chains’ “Main in the Box” blaring.
» THE NIGHT MAN COMETH... Cole Hamels apparently isn’t a fighter of the night man or a champion of the sun. The skilled lefty owns an ERA 138 points higher in day games, as opposed to night ones. Hamels is now 19-19 with a 4.52 ERA in afternoons vs. 55-36 and 3.14 ERA at dusk.
» BY THE NUMBERS... How far has that once-vaunted Phillies offense fallen from grace? Last year at this time, the Phils had already racked up 22 runs and 39 hits through their first four games. In 2012, they have eight runs and 26 hits during the same sample size. Oh, and Miami’s Omar Infante has more homers than the entire Phillies squad, with three. Ouch.