Manuel unhappy with Phils' effort
Skipper not pleased after club's ninth loss in past 11 games
CLEARWATER, Fla. -- The sign hangs in Charlie Manuel's office, reminding players of the overlap between Spring Training games and the regular season: "It's not like a light bulb, you don't turn it on and off."
The far from new and obvious message is often uttered by a frustrated manager around this time, when he perceives that his team isn't ready. The wins, losses, ERAs and batting averages deemed meaningless in Grapefruit League games become meaningful when a manager wants his team to refocus on winning.
A 9-1 loss to the Braves on a soggy Friday afternoon at Bright House Field -- the team's ninth defeat in 11 games -- spurred this in Manuel.
"It's good to be relaxed and loose, but it's about time for us to talk," said Manuel, who prides himself on knowing when the conduct outbursts. "We have some guys that are too cool, and there's a fine line between being relaxed and being complacent. We have something happening here, but it's nothing we can't take care of."
At 5-11-1, the offense has been sputtering, while the pitching staff has put the team in early holes. Defending National League MVP Jimmy Rollins (.156), Geoff Jenkins (.162), Chase Utley (.200) and Pat Burrell (.194) are in early funks.
Players always say that intensity is difficult to find in the early going.
"In Spring Training, it's hard to find that true intensity that you get during the season," Utley said. "Sometimes you have to trick yourself that it's there. You have to psych yourself up. This is the time of when you start to turn the corner."
Manuel's frustration is understandable. Real or imagined, the manager doesn't like the thought of a team satisfied with winning the NL East last season, and even that team started off 4-11 before climbing back.
"Different individuals will look at things in different ways," Manuel said. "Some of them like their position and take it for granted if they're a regular player that somebody can't beat them out. That's not the right attitude to take. It might be time for us to have a little chat, maybe in the next couple of days."
The first sign of Manuel's frustration came on Wednesday, when he played his starting lineup for all nine innings. He explained then that it was time for his players to focus. Two days later, he's still hoping for that.
This wouldn't be the first time Manuel lashed out at his team, and not the first time in Spring Training. In March 2006, Manuel held an outfield chat during stretching, and later that season, he unloaded in the dugout in Florida.
Last season, Manuel held a team meeting in Cincinnati after the team fell to 4-11.
"It's all a timing thing," Manuel said. "If somebody is going to play for us, we have to do better. We need to have some understanding. It's coming. I'd rather see us peak a week to 10 days from now than right now. We're going through a lackadaisical dead period. When we peak, I want it to be at the start of the season."
Shane Victorino, who is hitting .250 this spring, said Spring Training isn't a time to "shoot yourself for grounding out." The regular season is just different. While he concedes that players aren't where they want to be.
"We're definitely not where we want to be," he said. "I think guys are at the point where we have to bear down and get ready to go. The last week is when you can really tell where a team is going. We're to that point where we need to find a groove as a team, but I'm not worried, I think we'll be fine."
As for the light bulb?
"I'm not saying you can hit a switch and you're going be great, but you can hit a switch and say, 'It's Opening Day, it's time to play.'" Victorino said. "You've got that lever where you can say, 'I'm going to pick up that intensity.' To me, that's where you say, 'Let's rise.'"
Ken Mandel is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.