Phillies look to turn weekend sweep into sustained run

Phillies look to turn weekend sweep into sustained run

April 29, 2013, 6:00 pm
Share This Post

The Phillies' road sweep in New York was their first of the season, matching their total from 2012. (USA Today Images)

After a stretch of 17 games in 17 days, the Phillies had an off day Monday.

All things considered, Charlie Manuel would rather have kept on playing.

“When you’re playing good, or starting to play good, or have a streak going, I like to keep playing,” the Phillies' manager said. “If I had my way we’d play.”

A month into the season, the Phillies finally have a reason to feel good about themselves. They are coming off their best three-game stretch of the season, a sweep of the New York Mets in which they received good pitching and even better hitting. Their offense, which had sputtered in the early weeks of the season, produced 18 runs in three games against the Mets and collected nine hits in 25 at-bats with a runner in scoring position. To put that in perspective, the Phils lost three in a row to Pittsburgh before heading to New York. They were 4 for 29 with runners in scoring position in those three games against the Pirates.

Yes, the Phillies’ weekend sweep came against the Mets, a team that is expected to finish near the bottom in the NL East, and Matt Harvey, the Mets’ best arm, did not pitch in the series. But you can only beat the team in front of you that day. The Phils weren’t about to throw back the sweep and the momentum they hope they gained with it.

“We knew we were kind of due for a series like this,” said Laynce Nix, whose two-out, pinch-hit in the seventh inning helped key Sunday’s win. “Now we have to try to keep it going.”

The schedule remains kind to the Phillies as they visit the Cleveland Indians for a two-game series starting Tuesday night. The Indians entered play on Monday in last place in the AL Central. After the quick two-game series against the Terry Francona-led Tribe, the Phils return home for four games against the lowly Miami Marlins.

The Mets. The Indians. The Marlins.

These are teams the Phillies (12-14) must clean up on if they are to make a run at a playoff spot.

So far, so good, by the way: The Phils are 7-2 against the Mets and Marlins. Tougher tests will come and maybe the Phils are becoming better equipped to handle those challenges.

First, Roy Halladay, who starts Tuesday night, seems to be finding himself after opening the season with two poor starts. He has given up just eight hits, five walks and four runs while striking out 16 in 21 innings over his last three starts. If he can continue to perform at or close to that level, the Phils’ rotation should be formidable with Cole Hamels (he’s due to go on a big run), Cliff Lee and Kyle Kendrick (see story).

Second, Ryan Howard is finding his groove after a slow start. He has two doubles, two homers and 10 RBIs in his last five games. He hit everything hard in New York. Howard’s production in the cleanup hole has always been crucial to this team and so is Jimmy Rollins’ work in the leadoff hole. Rollins had a strong series in New York with four hits -- including an important two-out single to cap a nine-pitch at-bat in the seventh inning Sunday -- two walks and four runs.

The third reason to believe the Phils could be ready to put something together is this: Their lineup is about to get deeper and better. It got a little better and deeper with the return of Carlos Ruiz on Sunday – “He just makes our lineup feel more complete,” Hamels said -- and will benefit from the addition of Delmon Young in the coming days. May 1 has been the loose target date for adding Young to the roster. He is currently rehabbing from ankle surgery with Triple A Lehigh Valley. Ruiz and Young are two solid right-handed bats that should make the Phils less susceptible to left-handed pitching and more productive overall.

First-year hitting coach Steve Henderson liked what he saw in New York and thinks the lineup is poised to continue to produce.

“Every hitter in Major League Baseball will have little bumps in the road,” Henderson said. “It just so happens we had ours early in the year. These guys are proven hitters here. All of them. When it does click, you’ll see an example like you saw this weekend.

“Having Delmon and Carlos is going to make a lot of difference. It takes a little pressure off everybody so they can just do their job. Early in the year, we weren’t scoring runs like we should, but everybody was putting pressure on themselves, trying to make something happen. Now you have a full team together and that will be a more relaxed team.”

Said Manuel: “When you start playing more relaxed, good things happen.”

Good things happened for the Phillies in New York, but it was just three games, a drop of water in the Olympic-sized swimming pool that is a major-league baseball season. The Phils need to use the weekend as a springboard into a successful month of May.

“We were able to come through in some crunch situations [in New York],” Hamels said, “but we still have a lot to build on. I know we can get a lot more hits, we can put up a lot more runs, throw a lot more strikes. This is just a small step to where we want to go.”

More Team Talk