Frustrated Manuel challenges Phillies' hitters after another feeble effort

Frustrated Manuel challenges Phillies' hitters after another feeble effort

April 24, 2013, 12:15 am
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Carl Hubbell pitched a hell of a game against the Phillies on Tuesday night.

What? You mean that wasn’t Carl Hubbell?

It sure looked like the ol’ lefty Hall of Famer.

Actually, that was Jeff Locke on the mound for the Pittsburgh Pirates. The left-hander came into the game with a 5.17 ERA and opposing hitters were batting a robust .305 against him and reaching base 40 percent of the time.

So, naturally, the maddeningly inconsistent Phillies offense did nothing against him.

The Phils got just four hits on the night, only two in six innings against Locke, in suffering a 2-0 loss to the Pirates (see Instant Replay). It was the third time the Phils had been shut out in the last eight games as they wasted a strong eight-inning performance from Cole Hamels.

After the game, manager Charlie Manuel vented for 10 minutes about his team’s offense and its inability to get anything going against Locke, a veteran of 14 big-league starts.

“He threw a lot of fastballs and was aggressive on us,” Manuel said. “He challenged us. He definitely would give you something good to hit if you were patient. He came right at us, really. That’s what I saw. He got his breaking ball over at times, but he threw us fastballs.

“I thought if he was going to throw his fastball like that, I thought we would hit him to tell you the truth. He pitched a good game and was up to the task, but it wasn’t that he did anything fantastic.”

Ryan Howard, who had a first-inning double but died on second as the Phils went 0 for 5 with runners in scoring position and left seven men on base, declined comment after the game. He struck out twice (see story).

Jimmy Rollins, who took an 0-for-4, did not disagree with his manager.

“He definitely got away with some hittable pitches,” Rollins said of Locke. “We all felt that. It happens sometimes. He threw some pitches for us to hit, but it was his night.”

The Phils are 9-12. The pitching, with a few exceptions, has been solid. The offense has been held to two or fewer runs 10 times.

Rollins said he could not put his finger on a reason why the offense has been so inconsistent.

“That’s a good question,” he said. “Some days we’re real aggressive. Sometimes we try to work the pitcher, depending on our game plan. I don’t know. The good thing is it will come around. Everybody works. We just need it to translate from the cage to the game.”

Impatience with this team is beginning to show at the turnstiles. Attendance on Tuesday night was just 31,002 -- the smallest crowd since April 2008.

Rollins is not panicking.

“We’ve got time,” he said. “A lot of it. We just have to make sure we take advantage of it.”

Manuel has spent many a night bemoaning his team’s offense the last couple of seasons, but this postgame interview session was different because in one breath the manager expressed patience with his hitters while in the next challenging them.

“I think they’re trying,” Manuel said. “Maybe a little bit too hard. But you have to get it done. Baseball is a game where what you did last year doesn’t count. It's what you're doing now that counts. Just because you hit last year doesn’t mean you will hit this year. The game can bite you. The game don't care how much money you make. It can get you.

“You can be the best player in the world, but you’ve got to hit. If you don’t hit, the first thing that someone does when you go bad is look for someone that can hit.

“We’ve got to improve. We’ve got to hit those fastballs. I hope that doesn’t put a lot of pressure on somebody. But we’ve got to hit some of those fastballs.”

Manuel has continually been asked what he can do to the lineup to get things going. He summed up his feelings on that a few days ago when he said he constantly thinks about different lineup combinations “but I keep coming up with the same names.”

Manuel will have Carlos Ruiz at his disposal Sunday and Delmon Young around May 1 (see story). We’ll see if they make a difference.

Hamels is 0-3 for the first time in his career and the Phils are 0-5 in his starts. The left-hander opened the season with two poor starts, but has allowed just six earned runs over his last three starts. Lack of run support has been a killer. The Phils got a leadoff triple from John Mayberry Jr. in the fourth inning Tuesday night and couldn't get him home. He was cut down at the plate on a contact play. The Phils had runners at the corners and no outs at the time. The inning ended in a double play.

Hamels said the lack of runs would have bothered him a few years ago, but he’s matured and learned to focus on the things he can control.

But Manuel verified that lack of run support is tough on a pitcher. This is still a pitching-based team. The Phils have to be careful that the lack of runs doesn't start adversely affecting the team’s strength. Manuel challenged the hitters to turn things around soon.

“We’re going to see if they can hit,” he said. “We’re going to see if they can hit. We’re going to see if they can hit. I’m pulling for every one of them, but that’s what we’re going to see.”