04/26/12 4:31 PM ET
Phils hope showing in Arizona sparks offense
Club plates 20 runs in 19 frames after netting 43 in first 16 games
By Todd Zolecki / MLB.com
The Phillies scored 20 runs in 19 innings over three games to win their series against the Arizona Diamondbacks. Those 20 runs looked like an embarrassment of riches to a team that scored just 43 runs in its first 16 games.
Those first 16 games, in which the Phils scored two or fewer runs 10 times, had been a source of endless frustrations for Manuel, who has been trying to get his hitters to improve their approach at the plate. It has been a struggle. Philadelphia has a .294 on-base percentage and just 37 walks, both of which rank 15th in the National League. The club's 3.68 pitches per plate appearance is tied with the Chicago Cubs for last in baseball.
The Phillies showed some improvement against the D-backs, but the trick is keeping it up.
Manuel needs his stars to lead the way.
"We're talking about being selective at the plate and getting good balls to hit," Manuel said, standing on the top step of the visitors' dugout before batting practice Tuesday. "I think they hear the message. Is it getting through? I see them working. But at the same time, if they got away playing their whole career that way and they've been successful and they're stars, it's kind of hard for them to think, 'How come all of a sudden they're trying to change us?' But at the same time, they also have to realize what they're hitting. It's called adjustments. Sometimes people have to be willing to make the adjustments. They've got to want to."
The fallout from a lengthy team-wide slump typically hits the manager and hitting coach first. Fans have wondered why Manuel plays particular players over others. Fans have asked if hitting coach Greg Gross' methods are working.
"The expectations on us are high. I take that as a challenge," Manuel said. "That's a good challenge. But at the same time, there's more to it. A guy can talk until he's blue in the face, but you've got to buy into what he's saying. You've got to trust yourself, too. You're the guy with the bat in your hand. I've definitely got to be held accountable for my job. And GG definitely needs to be held accountable for his job. But the guy whose job it is to perform has to be held accountable, too. Of course, the old saying is, 'You can't hold everybody accountable.' I'm saying, well, to put on a winning team, you might want to check everybody out."
The Phillies have been handcuffed without their best two hitters in the lineup in Ryan Howard and Chase Utley. Both are recovering from injuries and both have no timetable to return. That has left Manuel mixing and matching players trying to find a workable lineup.
He has used 15 lineups in 19 games.
Jimmy Rollins had hit third in every game until Wednesday, when he did not play. He is stuck in a .091 (3-for-33) slump. Hunter Pence has hit fourth in every game other than Monday, when he did not play because of a bruised left rotator cuff. He snapped a 0-for-16 slump Tuesday.
It is impossible to score consistently when the team's Nos. 3 and 4 hitters are not hitting.
The Phils hope the series in Arizona signaled the beginning of a turnaround. Pence had a homer and four RBIs in his last two games.
"Hitting is very contagious," Rollins said. "Making outs is contagious. Making errors is contagious. Making great plays, the same way. When you see somebody do it, it gives you the confidence you can do it. And the next guy feeds off of it, so it looked like with Polly [Placido Polanco] getting on base five times [Wednesday], he's definitely starting to feel better, so that's big."
Of the Phillies with 20 or more at-bats, Laynce Nix (.333), Juan Pierre (.333) and Ty Wigginton (.302) have the highest batting averages. Those are three role players Philadelphia acquired in the offseason. Nix (1.010), Wigginton (.809) and Shane Victorino (.786) have the highest OPS percentages. Rollins (.524), Polanco (.452) and John Mayberry Jr. (.444) -- three of the most important hitters in the lineup entering the season -- have the lowest OPS percentages of players with 20 or more at-bats.
Jim Thome, who has had just 17 at-bats, has a .328 OPS.
Their struggles have left Manuel walking the tightrope between playing players enough to get them going offensively, which he needs to do, and playing players who help him in that night's game, which he also needs to do.
In a perfect world, most of the lineup is hitting and Manuel can afford to be a little more patient with somebody like Mayberry. But with almost everybody struggling, he has played Pierre more in left field and Wigginton and Nix more at first base.
Thome was supposed to help ease the burden of playing without Howard early in the season, but so far he has not. He has just two hits and 10 strikeouts.
There had been talk in Spring Training that Thome could play more than once a week at first base. So far he has played just once a week.
Manuel sounds like he could be close to turning Thome loose.
"I need to find him more at-bats," Manuel said. "I know that. I'm definitely comfortable playing him. He definitely can hold his own at first. And I think he can play a couple times a week. I'm planning on getting him more at-bats."
But Thome is not going to save the offense. He is on this team as a role player. So are Nix, Wigginton, Pierre and Freddy Galvis, who has held his own while Utley is out. The Phillies need their All-Stars to shine. That includes Rollins, Pence, Victorino and Polanco.
Maybe the Phils continue to swing the bats well at home this weekend in a four-game series against the Cubs. Maybe then the club can feel like it has turned a corner. But right now, Philadelphia has hit the ball well consistently for 19 innings.
"You have do it off somebody, you have to start somewhere, so hopefully that was the start," Rollins said. "I'd like to believe it's a start. Our pitching has obviously been outstanding. But hitting the way we have in the last 19 innings, that'd be great."
Todd Zolecki is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.