by Mike Radano
If nothing else, Phillies manager Charlie Manuel has shown himself to be a manager of habit.
Manuel is a baseball lifer. Nothing gets him going more than baseball, so much so that in the Phillies media guide next to hobbies it lists of all things, talking baseball as his favorite hobby. Much of what he does is set in stone, a stone hardened over years of playing, coaching and managing the game he loves not only in America but a well documented stint in Japan.
So when Manuel goes against his norm, changes the mixture just a little bit, it’s something that should be noted.
On Sunday, Manuel changed his managerial philosophy just a little bit. He tinkered when in all honesty, he could have stuck with what he had been so comfortable with over five seasons from his spot in the dugout well at Citizens Bank Park and no one would have said a thing. Not that much was made of his decision in the seventh inning but again, it’s something that should be noted.
With one on and no outs, Manuel let starter Cole Hamels hit. Actually, down a run to Florida he left his left-handed starter in to sacrifice Carlos Ruiz over to second down.in the final game of a three-game series with the Marlins.
The move itself was not a big deal. Ruiz reached first, Hamels had pitched very well to this point and National League pitchers should be able to bunt. Actually, every ballplayer should be able to bunt even though most can’t but that’s another topic for another time.
Hamels got the bunt down, Ruiz went to second and Hamels pitched into the ninth inning. The Phillies didn’t score in the seventh and in fact didn’t score at all in a 2-0 loss. In a long season, no one will look back at Sunday and say “If only they had beaten the Marlins on the Phanatic’s Birthday.” If anyone does, they should be smacked for bringing up the Phanatic’s birthday and the Zooperstars, who Chris Wheeler and Tom McCarthy seemingly have a bizarre obsession with but again, that’s not the point.
The point is this, Manuel kept Hamels in the game. It mattered not that Ruiz reached base because no one was warming up in the Phillies bullpen. Hamels was going to walk to the plate either way and that’s a ever so slight departure from the norm for Manuel.
Countless times over the past five seasons, the Phillies have been down in a close game and Manuel has opted for a pinch hitter in this situation. All one need do is ask Hamels how many times it’s happened to him and the picture becomes a little more in focus. Games that Hamels wanted to stay in but Manuel lifted him for a pinch hitter late in game down a run. To be fair, it’s actually been more about the Kyle Kendrick’s of the world than Hamels but this still looked and felt different.
With Hamels, the Phillies as an organization has made an overt effort to keep him fresh, on turn and when possible, limit his pitch counts. What better time to do all of that than in this situation?
How many times has Manuel said in effect of a starter “He threw well and I didn’t want him to stay in and lose what he gained?”
Hamels stayed in the game and did give up another run but this was different and Manuel played it different.
For one, the Phillies are off to a strong start compared to other Aprils and aren’t desperate for a win. They can afford an April loss if it breeds wins in May, June, July and so on.
Second, Hamels threw clearly his best game of the year and it showed on his face after the game. He even laughed and told a corny joke, which are usually reserved to media queries after wins.
In the end, the scoreboard may have indicated a loss but Hamels demeanor after the game says this was a win. A victory for his confidence, a step forward instead of a step back and by allowing Hamels to stay in when Manuel could have gone to his bench – not that it would have done anything different – indicates the Phillies aren’t hoping to win the National League East, they expect too and need Hamels to have the type of season his talent warrants.
That all depends on Hamels confidence and what goes on in the six inches between his ears all of which looked pretty good despite a shutout loss on Sunday afternoon.
Mike Radano’s columns can also be found at philliesphever.wordpress.com and highhopesblog.com
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