NEW YORK - It was less a lineup shakeup and more a lack of options. Manager Charlie Manuel made three changes to his batting order last night, inserting Wilson Valdez for Juan Castro at shortstop, Ben Francisco for Raul Ibanez in leftfield and Brian Schneider for Carlos Ruiz behind the plate.
It wasn't a case of an angry manager sending a message.
Ruiz, for instance, has been battling shoulder soreness that affects him when throwing.
Meanwhile, opposing starter Hisanori Takahashi entered last night having struck out 15 of the 32 lefthanded hitters he has faced this season, prompting the decision to start the righthanded-hitting Francisco in leftfield.
As for the Valdez-Castro switch, Manuel has always said both players would play with shortstop Jimmy Rollins on the disabled list until at least June 6.
In a perfect world, the righthanded-hitting Ruiz would have played against Takahashi instead of the lefthanded-hitting Schneider. But 2010 has rarely been a perfect world when it comes to the health of the Phillies' players. Ruiz, who missed 4 days with a knee injury this month and entered last night with two hits in his last 21 at-bats, said he has felt soreness in his shoulder for at least a couple of weeks, although nobody seems to think it is serious. On Tuesday night, when the Mets stole three bases in an 8-0 win, two of his throws to second base appeared weaker than normal. Overall this season, Ruiz has thrown out 21 percent of attempted basestealers, 6 percentage points below his career average, although those figures rely as much on the pitcher on the mound as on the catcher behind the plate.
"I feel it a little bit" when throwing, Ruiz said. But he went on to declare himself "OK," and said he was hoping to be in the lineup tonight in the series finale at Citi Field.
General manager Ruben Amaro Jr. echoed a similar refrain.
"It's just soreness," Amaro said. "Everybody gets sore. "It's baseball."
But even Amaro had to acknowledge that the Phillies have been difficult to watch.
"We stink when it comes to hitting," the GM said. "We just haven't been good. It's pretty simple."
Will it end soon?
"I hope," he said. "They're paid not to stink."
Lefthander J.A. Happ took another small step forward on Monday when he threw a 40-pitch bullpen session that included some changeups, the first time he has thrown off-speed pitches off a mound since going on the disabled list with a forearm strain on April 13. Happ is scheduled to throw another bullpen session in Clearwater, Fla., today, and could soon face hitters participating in extended spring. But Happ is still a considerable distance from a return to the active roster. He has yet to throw any breaking pitches, from either a mound or on flat ground, and will likely have to go through a spring training-type progression to rebuild his arm strength. A return by the end of June is possible, although the Phillies are well aware of the potential for setbacks.
"It's going to take him a while to get going again," Amaro said.
Catcher Paul Hoover, designated for assignment on Monday when the Phillies activated Brian Schneider (Achilles' tendon) from the disabled list, cleared waivers and accepted an assignment to Triple A Lehigh Valley . . . Ruben Amaro said there is no timetable for the return of closer Brad Lidge (elbow), who could make a rehab appearance this weekend in Port St. Lucie for Class A Clearwater. Lidge said earlier this week he thought he was on pace to return during the Phillies' series in Atlanta that begins on Monday. *
For more Phillies coverage and opinion, read David Murphy's blog, High Cheese, at http://go.philly.com/highcheese.