It's up to Amaro to fix the floundering Phillies

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It's up to Amaro to fix the floundering Phillies

In their 11-7 loss Tuesday in their series opener at Minnesota, the Phillies wasted 14 hits. It might take them another three games to get that many.

This was yet another lost day in a season that is growing increasingly troubling. At this point, the notion that help may be on the way in the persons of rehabbed players seems overplayed.

To update: Chase Utley is batting but not playing the field in Florida; Ryan Howards return date is still unknown; and Roy Halladay wont be back for several more weeks. Really, it doesnt matter.

Dust the Phils first 64 games this season and the evidence speaks loudly and clearly: This is not their year, and the fix wont come with the return of some combination of Utley, Howard and Halladay. No, the problems run too deep. The imbalance between pitching and offense is too debilitating, and players that were positioned to provide depth off the bench have come up short. At their current rate theyd have to trade rosters with the first-place Nationals to compete for the NL East title.

Phillies pitching was pounded Tuesday night in a game started by Kyle Kendrick. It is mid-June and Cliff Lee has yet to win a game, and Cole Hamels has hit a slick spot after building the kind of traction early on that raised talk of a Cy Young Award. In two June starts, Hamels has been tagged for eight earned runs in 12 13 innings. Thats a drastic downturn from the 11 earned runs the free-agent-in-waiting allowed over six starts in May.

The Phillies team that finished last season as a five-time defending division champ is unrecognizable right now, and every indication it has given by its performance suggests were in for a long summer the kind that will continue to turn even the most ardent fans into blue seats. Simply put: the machine doesnt run well anymore, and theres one person thats on the spot for constructing a bridge over the trouble waters. Not Ryan or Chase. Not Roy. Not even Charlie. From here on out, its all up to Ruben.

General manager Ruben Amaro Jr. has assembled this team. His rep as a team-builder is on the line, but so too is his ability to now repair what he put together. Thanks to the stocked cupboard Pat Gillick left him, Amaros regime has been more about reloading than rebuilding, but player age and underperformance are threatening to test him like never before not to mention the potentially sticky issue of fitting in a nine-figure payroll slot for Hamels.

The rest of the NL East is leaving the Phillies behind. Amaros decisions to this point have been compromised by serious injuries to key players, but it is impossible to mistake the barebones roster that has been exposed in the process. So, Amaros focus on fixing his team must take a long-term view, because 2012 is looking like a lost season. We are going to see in the coming months how well Phillies management can reposition its team to compete against as many as four division opponents that may be better equipped for the future. Consider that possibility for a moment.

Amaros strategy of stockpiling aces and hoping they would lead the way to a championship has not worked. The offense has languished, and injuries have only widened the gap between pitching and hitting. In short, he allowed himself little wiggle room in case of injuries, and the team is paying for it with the freefall we are witnessing. It seems to me at least one ballyhooed ace, and maybe two, will have to be moved in order to properly outfit the team for 2013 and beyond.

Look around. The Nationals are for real, and are led by young talent. The Braves, Mets and Marlins have taken steps to improve their rosters, and to this point each team has outperformed the Phillies. The tables have turned within the NL East, and taking stock of this seasons misfortunes, the Phillies decline has been gradual but unmistakable.

Amaro was promoted to GM soon after the Pat Gillick-constructed 2008 team won the World Series. His two signature moves to date are the acquisition of Roy Halladay and the trade of Cliff Lee to Seattle. Bringing Lee back to great fanfare might rank third. Still, his strategy to load up on starting pitching has not drawn the team closer to a championship.

Since 2008, with each passing year, the Phillies have fallen one step backwards. It is a pattern that projects them to miss the playoffs altogether this season. So far, thats about the only area where they are not missing the mark.
E-mail Ron Burke at rburke@comcastsportsnet.com

Justin Verlander powers his way through Phillies' weak lineup

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Justin Verlander powers his way through Phillies' weak lineup

BOX SCORE

DETROIT – Back on March 26, the Detroit Tigers made the trip to Clearwater to play the Phillies during the final week of the Grapefruit League schedule.
 
Justin Verlander was the Tigers’ starting pitcher that day at Bright House Field. The Phillies ended up losing that game by a run when their bullpen came undone in the late innings. But earlier in the game, the Phils had pretty good success against Verlander. They knocked him around for three runs in five innings. They had seven hits against him, four for extra bases.
 
Two months later, the Phillies came face to face with Verlander again on a warm Tuesday night in Detroit.
 
This time, the Phils had no chance.
 
They were manhandled by the 2011 American League MVP and Cy Young Award winner in suffering a 3-1 loss to the Tigers (see Instant Replay).
 
“Verlander pitched well,” manager Pete Mackanin said. “He had a good fastball and we weren’t catching up to it.”
 
Yes, Verlander had good fastball and he knew it. Sixty-five of his 108 pitches were fastballs. He averaged 94 mph with the pitch and topped out at 97. That’s how hard his final pitch of night was. He blew it by the Phillies’ best hitter, Odubel Herrera, for his 10th strikeout of the night.
 
In all, Verlander pitched eight shutout innings and gave up just three hits against one of baseball’s worst offenses; the Phils entered the game averaging just 3.24 runs per game.
 
The loss was the Phillies’ fourth in the last five games and it dropped them to 25-21. They have opened this challenging road trip, which finishes with three against the Chicago Cubs, owners of the best record in the game, with two straight losses heading into Wednesday’s series finale against the Tigers. Aaron Nola will get the ball against Anibal Sanchez.
 
Can Nola be a stopper? The Phillies could really use a victory. To get it, they will need some offense. They got just about none until Verlander left the game Tuesday night.
 
“We just couldn’t get enough going,” Mackanin said. “Verlander really relied on his fastball and we couldn’t capitalize.”
 
Jeremy Hellickson pitched well for the third straight time for the Phillies. (He has allowed just five earned runs over 20 innings in his last three starts. He has walked just three batters and struck out 20 over that span.) But with no run support, Hellickson couldn’t afford to make any mistakes and he needed excellent defensive support – which he did not get.
 
Hellickson served up a down-the-middle fastball to Miguel Cabrera in the first inning and Cabrera swatted it for an RBI double. He has four RBIs in the first two games against the Phillies.
 
In the third inning, Hellickson struck Cabrera out on a nasty changeup for the third out. The pitch was so good that Cabrera flashed Hellickson a thumbs-up before spiking his helmet to the ground.
 
Hellickson’s changeup has been very good lately.
 
“I really feel comfortable with it right now and I’m throwing it for a lot of strikes,” he said.
 
In a close game with not much offense going against Verlander, Hellickson needed strong defense behind him. He did not get it from third baseman Maikel Franco in the fifth inning. With a runner on first and no outs, J.D. Martinez hit a bounding ball to Franco’s right. Franco tried to backhand the ball with a quick snap of his glove. Fielded cleanly, Franco probably could have started a double play. Instead, the ball got by him, was generously scored a double and led to a run. The Tigers scored twice in the inning to take a 3-1 lead.
 
“Yes, it’s makeable,” Mackanin said of the ball that got by Franco. “He got to a certain spot and then he stopped and tried to snag it instead of taking one more step toward it. I don’t think he could have gotten in front of the ball but he could have gone through it instead of stopping and trying to snag it. I thought he could have done that.
 
“It’s a potential double-play ball. He needed to take one more step instead of reaching for it.”
 
Tommy Joseph had the best at-bats against Verlander. He lined out twice to the pull side and had a base hit in the seventh. In the ninth, the Phillies rallied for a couple of hits against Francisco Rodriguez. Joseph scorched a liner to left for a sacrifice fly and the Phillies’ only run.
 
“He hit the ball on the nose four times, really good at bats,” Mackanin said of Joseph. “If that ball he hits in the ninth inning finds a gap, we have the tying run at second.”
 
Joseph has seven hits in his first 23 at-bats and has made some hard outs. He will start at first base again Wednesday and also on Friday as the Cubs will start lefty Jon Lester. After that, he could get starts against right-handers because he’s simply out-hitting Ryan Howard, who went 1 for 4 and saw his average climb to .159.
 
Before the game, Mackanin said Joseph could take playing time away from Howard if he continues to hit.

Instant Replay: Tigers 3, Phillies 1

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AP

Instant Replay: Tigers 3, Phillies 1

BOX SCORE

DETROIT — What figures to be the Phillies’ most challenging road trip so far is not off to a good start.
 
The Phillies lost for the second time in as many nights to the Detroit Tigers on Tuesday. Tigers right-hander Justin Verlander manhandled the Phillies in leading his team to a 3-1 victory.
 
The Phillies were held to just three hits in the first eight innings. They rallied for a run on two hits and a sacrifice fly by Tommy Joseph after Verlander had exited in the ninth.
 
The Phils have lost four out of their last five games and are 25-21 on the season.
 
After a slow start, the Tigers have come alive. They have won eight of their last nine.
 
The series ends Wednesday afternoon. The Phillies open a three-game series against the Chicago Cubs on Friday. They have the best record in the majors.
 
Starting pitching report
Jeremy Hellickson delivered a very solid start of seven innings and three runs, but received no run support. He walked just one and struck out seven.
 
Hellickson has allowed just five earned runs over 20 innings in his last three starts. He has walked just three batters and struck out 20 over that span.
 
Verlander gave up just two singles and a double over eight shutout innings. He walked two and struck out 10.
 
Verlander’s 108th and final pitch of the game was a 97 mph fastball past Odubel Herrera.
 
Bullpen report
Detroit closer Francisco Rodriguez survived a shaky ninth for the save. He squandered his team’s shutout bid by allowing the Phillies’ only run.
 
The save was Francisco’s 400th. He is the sixth pitcher in big-league history to reach that milestone.
 
At the plate
Ryan Howard entered the night hitting .083 (4 for 48) in the month of May. Three of those hits were homers and the other was a double. Howard had not had a single since April 29, a span of 19 games. He ended the singles drought with a base hit against Verlander in the second inning.
 
Howard popped out, struck out and grounded out in his next three at-bats as his average actually climbed to .159.
 
Howard batted fifth and Joseph hit fourth. Joseph, who had a homer and a double in Monday night’s game, stung the ball right at the shortstop and leftfielder, respectively, in his first two at-bats before singling in his third at-bat. He lined a sacrifice fly to left for the Phils’ only run in the ninth.
 
Freddy Galvis doubled twice for the Phils.
 
Miguel Cabrera, who had two homers and a double on Monday night, continued to scorch the Phils. He doubled home a run in the first inning and plated another with a groundout in the sixth. Victor Martinez, who drove in the go-ahead run Monday night, drove in the Tigers’ third run with a single in the sixth.
 
In the field
Catcher Carlos Ruiz threw out two runners trying to steal second.
 
Third baseman Maikel Franco unsuccessfully tried to backhand a bounding ball from J.D. Martinez in the sixth inning. If Franco makes the play, he probably starts an around-the-horn double play. Instead, it got by him, was generously scored a double and led to the Tigers’ second run of the game.
 
Minor matters
Cody Asche, rehabbing from an oblique strain with the Double A Reading club, hit a two-run home run Tuesday night.
 
Up next
The series concludes Wednesday afternoon. Aaron Nola (3-3, 2.85) starts for the Phillies against Detroit right-hander Anibal Sanchez (3-5, 6.23).

Tonight's lineup: After benching, Odubel Herrera back in leadoff spot

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Tonight's lineup: After benching, Odubel Herrera back in leadoff spot

It seems like Phillies manager Pete Mackanin has decided pulling Odubel Herrera in the seventh inning of a tied game on Monday is enough punishment for failing to run out a ground ball.

The centerfielder will be back in his customary leadoff spot when the Phillies take on Justin Verlander and the Tigers tonight at Comerica Park (see game notes).

Much of the talk surrounding the Phillies in the last 24 hours has centered on Herrera after Mackanin yanked him from the game Monday (see story). After all, Herrera's .335 batting average leads an offense-starved team that averages just 3.24 runs per game, second-worst in the majors. Before he was pulled on Monday, Herrera was 3 for 4 with an RBI and had a 15-pitch at-bat against starter Mike Pelfrey to start the game.

Tommy Joseph will start again at first base after clobbering his second homer of the season on Monday. Despite another night of immense struggles (see story), Ryan Howard is again in the lineup as the designated hitter in the American League park.

The only change to to the lineup from Monday see Carlos Ruiz starting behind the plate to catch Jeremy Hellickson.

Star outfielder Justin Upton will sit again for Detroit as he nurses a quad injury. Mike Aviles will start in his place in left.

Both teams' lineups can be found below. (Updated, 5:43 p.m. — Tigers leadoff man Ian Kinsler has been scratched because of flu-like symptoms.)

Phillies
1. Odubel Herrera CF
2. Freddy Galvis SS
3. Maikel Franco 3B
4. Tommy Joseph 1B
5. Ryan Howard DH
6. Carlos Ruiz C
7. Cesar Hernandez 2B
8. Tyler Goeddel LF
9. Peter Bourjos RF

Tigers
1. Cameron Maybin CF
2. J.D. Martinez RF
3. Miguel Cabrera 1B
4. Victor Martinez DH
5. Nick Castellanos 3B
6. Steven Moya LF
7. Jarrod Saltalamacchia C
8. Mike Aviles 2B
9. Jose Iglesias SS