Countdown to Clearwater: Manuel's last ride?

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Countdown to Clearwater: Manuel's last ride?

The Phillies open spring training Wednesday in Clearwater, Fla. In advance of the first workout and the countdown to opening day, we take a daily look at the top storylines in camp.

Part 1: Health

Part 2: New faces

Today: Charlie Manuel’s future

Charlie Manuel will open his ninth spring training camp as Phillies manager next week.

It could be his last.

Manuel, who turned 69 last month, is entering the final year of his contract and there is no urgency -- on his side or the team’s -- to negotiate a contract extension.

Two springs ago, it was quite a different situation. Manuel had won four consecutive NL East titles and a World Series championship. He was 67 years old and eager for a new deal. In the middle of camp, he received a two-year extension taking him through 2013.

When he signed his new deal in March 2011, Manuel made it clear that he wanted to ride the extension to its conclusion then sit down with GM Ruben Amaro Jr. and club president David Montgomery and evaluate where he stood personally and professionally. He sounded like a man at peace with where he was headed.

Whenever the subject of his future has come up this offseason, Manuel has said that he wants to manage beyond this season. That comment catches people’s attention, but Manuel often qualifies the statement by saying he’s completely focused on winning in 2013 and he’ll deal with his future later. One of Manuel’s favorite sayings is “Know thyself.” Deep down inside, he knows he’s pushing 70 and knows he’s had a great run in Philadelphia. He knows he will be reaching a crossroads at the end of the season and one of those roads could take him to retirement, though he is loath to talk about that because he needs to maintain authority and vitality and does not want to create the impression he’s coasting to the finish line because he’s not. He badly wants to win in 2013.

Is it possible that Manuel gets deep into the season, decides he wants to stay on the job, and starts pushing for an extension? Sure it is. Will he get another extension? That’s a more complicated question. Manuel is the most successful Phillies manager ever and in May will pass Gene Mauch as the longest tenured skipper in franchise history. Team elders have great respect and appreciation for the job Manuel has done. He is on a fast track to the club’s Wall of Fame and will someday graduate to the revered status of Paul Owens and Dallas Green. But that doesn’t guarantee Manuel will get another contract to manage the Phillies. It’s likely that only another World Series title would give him the hammer to get another deal with the Phillies, and even then Manuel might opt to go the Tony La Russa route and go out on top.

Eras end in baseball and there are signs that the Phillies are ready to give Ryne Sandberg a shot as manager in 2014. Sandberg, the Phils’ Triple A manager the last two seasons, will be Manuel’s third base coach in 2013. His promotion has succession plan written all over it.

Manuel’s future will not be an overriding issue in this camp. He will likely be asked about it early in camp and then it will be time to move on to more pressing matters.

But this issue will become prominent if the team struggles during the regular season. If that happens, there could be a clamor to install Sandberg as manager. While it’s possible that a poor season could lead to an in-season change, it’s difficult to imagine Amaro and Montgomery firing a man who a little over four years ago raised the World Series trophy and announced, “Hey, this is for Philadelphia! This is for our fans!” A change after the season would be more likely. It is something that Manuel, the man who lives by the principal of know thyself, hinted at two years ago.

Regardless of what happens in the coming months, this could be Manuel’s last spring training as Phillies manager, and that’s pretty significant given all the success he’s had.

Tonight's lineup: Phillies load up with righties vs. White Sox lefty Carlos Rodon

Tonight's lineup: Phillies load up with righties vs. White Sox lefty Carlos Rodon

The Phillies are loading up with right-handed hitters for Tuesday's series opener at U.S. Cellular Field against White Sox lefty Carlos Rodon.

Odubel Herrera is out of the lineup and Aaron Altherr takes his place in center field. Peter Bourjos and Tyler Goeddel are in the outfield corners. 

Carlos Ruiz serves as the designated hitter against Rodon, who has huge platoon splits. Righties have hit .305/.365/.484 against Rodon; lefties have hit .220/.268/.286.

Rodon has a changeup to stave off right-handed hitters, but he's used it only eight percent of the time this season. He's thrown his 94 mph fastball, sinker or slider with 92 percent frequency (see game notes).

Emmanuel Burriss gets a start at second base.

Ryan Howard is out of the lineup. U.S. Cellular Field is the only active stadium in which he's never played. The Phillies haven't been there since 2004.

1. Peter Bourjos, RF
2. Aaron Altherr, CF
3. Maikel Franco, 3B
4. Tommy Joseph, 1B
5. Cameron Rupp, C
6. Carlos Ruiz, DH
7. Freddy Galvis, SS
8. Tyler Goeddel, LF
9. Emmanuel Burriss, 2B

Suspended Phillies pitcher Alec Asher to begin rehab assignment

Suspended Phillies pitcher Alec Asher to begin rehab assignment

Phillies right-handed starting pitcher Alec Asher, who was suspended 80 games in late May for PEDs, will begin a rehab assignment Tuesday in the Gulf Coast League.

Asher, 24, was 3-0 with a 1.53 ERA in four starts with Triple A Lehigh Valley before the ban was handed down.

The Phillies will likely stretch him back out and get a look at him again in September. They've dealt with various injuries to starting pitchers, including Aaron Nola (elbow) and Zach Eflin (knees, foot). Plus, there's the possibility Vince Velasquez is shut down at some point in September. He is five innings shy of matching his career high. That could open up a spot in the rotation for Asher.

Asher debuted with the Phils last Aug. 30 after being acquired from the Rangers in the Cole Hamels trade. He went 0-6 with a 9.31 ERA in seven starts last season but pitched well in the minors early this year thanks to the addition of a two-seam fastball.

Phillies-White Sox 5 things: First trip to Chicago's South Side since 2004

Phillies-White Sox 5 things: First trip to Chicago's South Side since 2004

Phillies (58-67) at White Sox (59-64)
8:10 p.m. on CSN

After going 2-4 on a six-game homestand against the Dodgers and Cardinals, the Phillies visit the White Sox for a brief two-game series. Rarely does interleague play take the Phils to the South Side of Chicago. 

How rarely?

1. The last time ...
The last time the Phillies were in Chicago to take on the White Sox at U.S. Cellular Field was 2004. 

The series was so long ago that Ryan Howard hadn't yet made his major-league debut. Chase Utley was still a part-time player. Carlos Ruiz was wrapping up his first full season at Double A.

It was so long ago that Ricky Ledee, Tomas Perez and Doug Glanville were in the Phillies' lineup, and Frank Thomas was the White Sox DH. 

Since interleague play began in 1997, the only other park the Phillies have visited as sparingly as U.S. Cellular Field is Kauffman Stadium in Kansas City. The Phils are 1-2 at both AL Central fields. 

At the beginning of the season it looked like this would be another reunion for the Phils and Jimmy Rollins, but the shortstop was designated for assignment by the White Sox after hitting .221 through 41 games.

2. Thompson's turn
Jake Thompson makes his fourth big-league start after going 1-2 with a 8.79 ERA in his first three. 

It's been a true struggle so far for Thompson, who has allowed 14 runs in 14⅓ innings on 14 hits and nine walks. He's walked multiple batters each game, and so far just 57.5 percent of his pitches have been strikes. 

Thompson keeps falling behind hitters with men on base, which is a recipe for disaster. It just seems like he's not finishing pitches out of the stretch. Or maybe he's tried too hard to evade solid contact and has nibbled instead. Whatever the case, it hasn't worked and Thompson will need to fix it to figure out what kind of pitcher he needs to be in the majors. 

Thompson had a 1.21 ERA in his final 11 starts at Triple A. The talent is there. The execution just hasn't been. A lot of times, young pitchers come up and struggle before figuring it out. The early successes of Aaron Nola, Jerad Eickhoff, Vince Velasquez and even Zach Eflin (after his first start) may cause you to forget that.

3. The book on Rodon
The Phillies for the first time face 23-year-old White Sox lefty Carlos Rodon, who was drafted third overall in 2014, four picks ahead of Nola.

Rodon is one of the only players in that entire draft who made it to the majors faster than Nola. He came up last season and went 9-6 with a 3.75 ERA for the White Sox, striking out 139 batters in 139⅓ innings but walking 71. 

This season, Rodon is 3-8 with a 4.26 ERA and 1.48 WHIP in 20 starts. It's been a rocky season, but he's been much better of late. Rodon missed almost all of July with a sprained wrist he suffered falling down the dugout steps. He's returned to pitch well in August, giving up four earned runs in 18 innings.

Rodon's control has improved significantly this season — he's walked 3.0 batters per nine innings after walking 4.6 as a rookie.

Rodon is a four-pitch pitcher with a four-seam fastball and sinker that average 94 mph, a slider at 87 and a changeup at 84. He throws the changeup just eight percent of the time.

Right-handed hitters have pounded Rodon this season, hitting .305/.365/.484. Lefties have hit just .220/.268/.286. Expect to see Tommy Joseph at first base and perhaps Tyler Goeddel in the outfield.

4. Scouting the Sox
The White Sox got off to a fast start this season, going 23-10 through May 9. They're 18 games under .500 since.

That early-season surge was built on timely offense and lights-out work from the bullpen. It probably inflated expectations for what is really just an average American League team.

Leadoff man Adam Eaton and veteran outfielder Melky Cabrera have had solid years for the Sox. Eaton has hit .276 with a .357 OBP and 37 extra-base hits. Cabrera has hit .295 with a .778 OPS.

The White Sox needed and still need more out of Jose Abreu and Todd Frazier, though. Abreu is hitting a respectable .283/.338/.447 but has just 16 home runs. And that's with Abreu heating up this month, hitting .361 with five homers. The big Cuban slugger has declined in each of his three seasons in the majors, his OPS dropping from .964 to .849 to .785. He hit 36 homers as a rookie and 30 last season.

Frazier, per usual, has hit for power with 31 homers and 76 RBIs. But he's hitting just .212 with a .295 on-base percentage, and those 31 homers account for one-third of his hits. He's also striking out a lot, on pace for 160.

The White Sox are too top-heavy a team. Chris Sale and Jose Quintana are a solid one-two punch atop the rotation. On paper, Abreu and Frazier should be a productive middle-of-the-order pairing. Eaton and Cabrera are adequate table-setters. And high-priced closer David Robertson still has great stuff. But the formula just hasn't led to wins in 2016.

5. This and that
• This is the only week the rest of the season the Phillies have two off days (Monday and Thursday).

• The Phils face the White Sox in another two-game series Sept. 20-21 at Citizens Bank Park.

• The Phillies have the fifth-best interleague record in the NL this season at 8-8. 

• The Phils are 14-14 against left-handed starting pitchers.