02/19/12 5:41 PM EST
At Phils camp, pitching keeping lower profile
Expectations are high, but little hoopla surrounding elite staff
By Todd Zolecki / MLB.com
Not like last year, when the Phillies held an introductory news conference for arguably one of the greatest rotations in baseball history. Roy Halladay, Joe Blanton, Cliff Lee, Roy Oswalt and Cole Hamels sat in order on a dais, answering questions from a large group of reporters to open the most highly anticipated season in franchise history. But as Phillies pitchers and catchers held their first official workout of 2012 on Sunday, it was back to normal.
Sure, Halladay, Lee, Hamels and Blanton are still in camp, but it felt no different than Spring Trainings past when pitchers like Jon Lieber, Eric Milton, Randy Wolf and Vicente Padilla roamed the clubhouse at Bright House Field.
No, it's just baseball this spring.
"A real good group," Phillies general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. said. "They seem pretty bright-eyed and bushy-tailed."
They still seem pretty talented, too.
"Somebody said to me today, 'What do you got?'" manager Charlie Manuel said. "I looked over and said, 'We got Halladay, Lee, Hamels and [Vance] Worley. That's a good start.' I don't know how people feel, but I feel the same way [as always]. I'm excited about our team. I'm excited about our pitching staff. I've been ready to go for a long time.
"If you look at our team and pull out our roster, yeah, we've got some ifs on there. We have that every year. It's about the same. To me, that's kind of what baseball is all about. There are always people who step up. We've had guys ever since I've been here who have done that. Usually at some point along the line, some new guys, some guy who hasn't been here or established himself, they all of a sudden get going and they play a big role in your success and help you during the season."
Make no mistake: the pitching is expected to lead this team. Halladay, Lee and Hamels finished second, third and fifth in National League Cy Young Award voting, respectively. Worley finished third in NL Rookie of the Year voting. Oswalt? He is gone, but the Phillies are hopeful Blanton can pitch effectively after missing most of last season because of an injured right elbow.
"I feel like I'm over it," Blanton said. "Mentally, I'm really optimistic. Physically, I feel really good. I feel like those two things are big. Mentally, I'm not holding back, wondering what's going to happen. I feel like I'm going to be really good through the whole year. Physically as of right now, I feel great. It's just wait and see and pray I make it through the whole year."
The Phillies shopped Blanton recently. They spoke with the New York Yankees about swapping Blanton for A.J. Burnett, but the deal never materialized. It is also believed they shopped Blanton with the intention of shedding salary so they could bring back Oswalt, who remains unsigned.
Amaro insists the Phillies are not trying to upgrade their rotation at this time.
"I like the way we set up," he said. "Vance had a very good year last year. Joe Blanton, if he's healthy, is going to be a very good pitcher for us. That is still an 'if,' because of the year he had last year because of his elbow. But right now, I'm pretty comfortable with our rotation."
If the five starters do what is expected of them, the Phillies should win their sixth consecutive National League East championship. They are that good.
The team is that motivated, too, following its incredibly disappointing finish to the 2011 season, when it lost to the St. Louis Cardinals in the NL Division Series.
"I look at Lee, Halladay, Jimmy Thome, and some of those other guys come over here to win a World Series," Manuel said. "I know all of our players and I know we've got guys in our locker room, and that's definitely what we're here for. I know what it takes to win. I know we had a lot of guys last year who were very disappointed we went out like we did. I think we're going to be right there in the hunt this year. I think we definitely have the talent, and I think if we outplay people and play the way we're capable of playing, I don't see a reason in the world why we can't expect that."
Todd Zolecki is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.