Ruben Amaro Jr.’s offseason plan consisted of this: Get the Phillies’ core players healthy, hope they produce, add some complementary pieces, fix the eighth inning, and make a push at returning to the postseason before Father Time catches up with the club and some key players’ contracts run out.
Sixty-four games into the season, the plan is not working. The Phillies are 31-33, 8½ games back in the NL East and 6½ games out of the second wild-card spot.
Several of the team’s big guns - Roy Halladay, Chase Utley and Carlos Ruiz - have been banged up. Others, such as Ryan Howard, have not produced. While others, such as Cole Hamels and Jimmy Rollins, have been inconsistent. Domonic Brown, Cliff Lee and Jonathan Papelbon have been standouts.
Amaro’s complementary additions have been less than impressive. Centerfielder Ben Revere has struggled at the plate and in the field, rightfielder Delmon Young has shown just a few flickers of production in the month he’s been active and eighth-inning reliever Mike Adams has shown a drop in overall stuff and has had trouble staying healthy. Third baseman Michael Young has been as advertised in the field: He catches what he gets to, but his range is quite limited. At the plate, Young’s lack of extra-base pop has been alarming.
In an interview with CSNPhilly.com, Amaro acknowledged that things have not gone well for his club. He is heartened, however, that the Phillies remain within striking distance with more than half a season to play.
“It’s a good sign that we’ve gotten less than typical production from some of our major players and we are still where we are,” he said.
Amaro spoke on a number of topics, starting with Revere and young players in general.
“Listen, we got what we thought would be good complementary players, especially in center field,” Amaro said. “We wanted to make sure we had someone who could defend and stabilize the position. It’s so important to have that in the middle of the field.
“Ben has been OK. I was hoping that he'd be playing better. He hasn’t played up to expectations yet. He’s still a young guy. He’s still adjusting to a new club and he wasn’t an everyday centerfielder in Minnesota. Unfortunately people expect a lot from a guy when you trade for him. We still need to be patient. Hopefully he’ll be the player we think he can be, but you always run a risk with a young player.
“From what we saw [when he was with Minnesota] we felt he’d be an above-average defender. He’s had some issues with routes. Again, he’s still learning. People wanted young players. We wanted young players. Sometimes it takes a young player time. You can’t expect them to all be stars right away.
“Look at Domonic. People said, ‘What’s with Domonic Brown? He’s never going to be a player. Trade him.’ I see that stuff. The fact of the matter is it takes time for guys to develop. What Domonic has done has been great. I didn’t expect this type of success this early. But he’s always had the ability and the talent and now you’re seeing what can happen when it comes together.”
Amaro praised Brown’s work ethic and his willingness to take coaching. He wishes all his players were so open to coaching.
“Domonic has allowed guys to work with him -- Steve Henderson, Wally Joyner, Chase [Utley],” Amaro said. “I wish some of our veterans would take advice like that. It doesn’t happen all the time. They get locked into their way of doing things. They know what they need to do to have success, but sometimes a new voice helps.”
Henderson and Joyner are the team’s new hitting coaches. One of their tasks was to help Howard become a better hitter, but he’s hitting just .251 with seven homers and 30 RBIs. His on-base percentage is .294 and he has struck out in 30 percent of his plate appearances.
“We added complementary players this winter because we thought our veterans would play at a higher level,” Amaro said. “Part of our problem is we’re not getting the production from our veteran guys. Howard hasn’t produced like we thought he would, Jimmy has done some things lately. Chase hasn’t been on the field. Ruiz has been hurt.
“That’s four guys we were counting on [who are] not producing, and that puts heat on the complementary guys. Once we get guys back I think we’ll be OK because our starting pitching has kept us in a lot of games.”
Speaking of starting pitching, there’s the never-ending issue of Lee’s future with the club. We’ll get to that in a moment.
First, Delmon Young. He’s up to 112 at-bats and hitting just .232 with six homers, 14 RBIs and a .290 on-base percentage. More is needed from a man who was signed for his bat.
“Delmon has had success in fits and starts,” Amaro said. “By this time I had hoped for a little more consistent offensive production. How patient can we be? I’m not sure. But we’ll be patient until he improves or somebody produces more than him.”
Fans have clamored for the Phils to give Darin Ruf a shot, a move that would necessitate moving Brown to right field. The Phils monitor Ruf’s progress, offensively and defensively as he learns to play left field, daily. Right now, team officials don’t think he’s an upgrade. In time, he might be. In 56 games at Triple A, Ruf is hitting .256 with five homers and 28 RBIs. He has a .332 on-base percentage and 59 strikeouts in 215 at-bats.
“People think because the guy hit 30-plus homers in Double A ... ,” Amaro said. “Again, it’s Double A baseball. Yes, he has ability. But there’s a whole road of adjustments to be made at higher levels. He hasn’t gotten on a roll yet, but we do believe he’s going to come around and get hot. Hopefully he pushes us so we have to make a tough decision.”
The Phils have some decisions coming up on their pitching. John Lannan is probably two minor-league starts from rejoining the big-league rotation. Either Tyler Cloyd or Jonathan Pettibone will go back to the minors when he’s ready. And then there’s the whole Carlos Zambrano issue. He’s pitching in the minors and the Phils have until the end of the month to bring him up or let him walk. Zambrano was signed for depth. It’s difficult to see the Phillies letting him walk without giving him an audition in the big leagues.
Zambrano is starting in the minors, but might get a look in a Phillies’ bullpen that could use help.
“He’s versatile,” Amaro said. “There are different ways to utilize him. He understands [the bullpen] is possible. We got him to provide depth.”
Of course, the biggest pitching decision Amaro faces is whether to shop pitchers like Lee and Papelbon in July or hang on to them for a second-half run. Much of that decision will come down to how the Phils play these next six weeks.
Amaro would not touch the Lee issue in specifics.
“The best chance we have to be a winning club now and in the future is to have the top of the rotation we have with those two big left-handers,” he said of Lee and Hamels. “That’s our best chance to win games. That’s what we’re in the business of doing.
“People think we’re going to blow up this team. We’re never going to be in the position of blowing up. There’s no blowing up. There might come a time when we make changes to improve for the future, but we don’t have a reason to blow it up. Boston didn’t blow it up last year. They retooled. That’s the challenge we have whether it’s July 31 or November 1.”