PITTSBURGH - First-half troubles seem so far away, at least for the Phillies pitching staff, which entered last night as the chief reason for the team's post-All-Star break tear. The numbers, going into last night's game in Pittsburgh, are nothing short of remarkable.
Since the start of the season's unofficial second half, the Phillies have posted a 3.04 ERA, best among National League teams, while holding opponents to a league-low .305 on-base percentage. Just how big of a turnaround do those figures represent? At the All-Star break, Phillies pitchers ranked 14th among 16 NL teams with a 4.61 ERA, and 13th with a 3.39 on-base percentage.
"Our starting pitching right now is probably the best it's been since I've been here," manager Charlie Manuel said. "I think this month is going to be a good month for us because I think we can get really consistent with our rotation, and if we can get the back of our bullpen healthy and pitching like it can, our pitching should be very good."
What, exactly, has led to the turnaround?
Meritocratic thinking: When is the last time a first-place team replaced three starters in the rotation and improved this dramatically? On May 22, when the Phillies beat the Yankees, 7-3, and improved their lead in the National League East to 1 1/2 games, Chan Ho Park and Brett Myers were in the rotation. Three months later, their replacements have combined to go 13-2 with a 2.10 ERA with 166 walks and hits allowed in 154 innings pitched. Since J.A. Happ replaced Park on May 23, the Phillies' pitching staff has a 3.61 ERA, compared to a 5.27 ERA prior. Since Cliff Lee joined the rotation on July 31, the staff has a 2.96 ERA.
Meanwhile, the bullpen has been bolstered by Park, who posted a 7.29 ERA in seven starts but has a 2.40 ERA in 31 relief appearances.
Long ball limitation: Balls were flying out of the park so fast early in the season, it's a wonder someone did not land on the disabled list with whiplash. At the All-Star break, the Phillies had allowed a league-worst 123 home runs. Heading into last night, they were tied for first with 23 home runs allowed since the break. That has helped cut their opposing slugging percentage from a league-worst .455 before the break to .363 after (third in the NL).
Cutting out walks: At the All-Star break, Phillies pitchers were allowing 3.4 walks per game. Since then, they have allowed 2.7.
Joe Blanton: The righthander epitomizes the Phillies' improvement. He entered last night's game with a 2.47 ERA in six starts since the All-Star break and has established himself as a solid No. 3 starter.
"I think that each guy is fulfilling their role better," Manuel said. "And that's what consistency is all about . . . Our pitching has just gotten more consistent, and that's what good pitching is."
Myers to Reading
Brett Myers' rehabilitation tour is scheduled to continue today in Reading, where he will make his third competitive appearance since undergoing hip surgery in early June. Myers has pitched two scoreless innings thus far, including one Monday for Class A Lakewood. The veteran righthander, who will be a free agent after this season, hopes to rejoin the Phillies in September as a reliever. Myers' velocity has been in the low 90s in his first two outings, an improvement from his performance before the surgery, which repaired a torn labrum and cleaned out bone spurs.
Taylor to DL
Outfield prospect Michael Taylor, hitting .282 with five home runs and 19 RBI in 30 games since his promotion to Triple A Lehigh Valley, was placed on the disabled list Monday with a strained oblique. Taylor, one of the team's top position prospects, will be eligible to return on Aug. 29, but the Phillies are not sure when he will be healthy enough to play.
"You just have to take those [oblique injuries] one day at a time," assistant general manager Benny Looper said. "We'd like for him to get back and get some ABs."
Taylor is not scheduled to participate in the Arizona Fall League, but will likely play fall or winter ball somewhere, perhaps Mexico.
Phillies in AFL
Top outfield prospect Domonic Brown will get a chance to extend his sizzling summer with the Scottsdale Scorpions, the Phillies' affiliate in this year's Arizona Fall League. Brown, who entered last night hitting .318 with three home runs, 14 RBI and six stolen bases in 22 games since his promotion to Double A Reading, is one of eight Phillies who will compete in the league. Other Phillies' minor leaguers who will participate are righthanders Scott Mathieson, Mike Cisco, and Michael Schwimer, lefthander Mike Zagurski, catcher Tuffy Gosewisch, outfielder Steve Susdorf and infielder Troy Hanzawa.
Outfielder Matt Stairs, hitless in his previous 21 at-bats, was in the lineup last night for the first time since Aug. 1, playing rightfield in place of Jayson Werth . . . Charlie Manuel said he thinks second baseman Chase Utley, hitting .300 with 26 home runs and 81 RBI heading into last night, could be ready to explode. Utley entered last night hitting .429 with two home runs in his last six games and just missed crushing two pitches in the Phillies' 5-1 win Monday over the Mets . . . Phillies assistant general manager Scott Proefrock got his start in baseball with the Pirates as a marketing intern 22 years ago this month.