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Inside the Phillies: Dead bats aren't the only problem

At the end of the Phillies' 2-7 road trip, Shane Victorino declared that the players were sick and tired of talking about the team's slumbering bats.

Shane Victorino and the rest of the Phillies seem reluctant to steal bases this season. (Elizabeth Robertson / Staff Photographer)
Shane Victorino and the rest of the Phillies seem reluctant to steal bases this season. (Elizabeth Robertson / Staff Photographer)Read more

At the end of the Phillies' 2-7 road trip, Shane Victorino declared that the players were sick and tired of talking about the team's slumbering bats.

Given the consistency with which the Phillies' offense vanished, it's easy to understand why he felt that way.

As a special favor to the Flyin' Hawaiian, we will try not to use any of this white space to discuss how the Phillies are having about as much luck swinging their bats as BP is at stopping all that oil from spilling into the Gulf of Mexico.

Instead, we will focus on some other things that have been going on during the team's slide into second place.

The disappearing defense. In each of the last three seasons, the Phillies have finished in the top 10 in the major leagues in fielding percentage. During a 12-game stretch during which the Phillies went 3-9 before Saturday, the team made 10 errors in 12 games and slipped to ninth in the National League and 17th in the big leagues in fielding percentage.

Manager Charlie Manuel said he believes the defensive lapse is directly related to the offensive one.

"Without a doubt," he said. "When you're hitting, you can run faster, you can make better defensive plays, and play the game better. I think if you're a great hitter and you're not hitting and you're concerned . . . I don't see how it cannot hurt your defense. That's nature. It's hard not to think about your hitting when you go in the field."

General manager Ruben Amaro thinks the problem is much simpler.

"We're missing the whole left side of our infield or had been," he said. "Those are two of the better defensive players in the game. Not to say anything about [Wilson] Valdez, [Juan] Castro, or [Greg] Dobbs, but those other guys are everyday players with Gold Gloves."

The two players missing were shortstop Jimmy Rollins and third baseman Placido Polanco. Polanco returned Friday night against the San Diego Padres, but Rollins will remain sidelined through the current homestand. Amaro hopes Rollins can begin a rehab assignment at the end of the week.

There appears to be truth to what Manuel and Amaro said about the defensive lapses. Five of the team's errors were made by reserves, including one each by Valdez, Castro, and Dobbs. But Polanco, Chase Utley, and Jayson Werth, who have struggled offensively, also contributed to the fielding gaffes.

Stalled running game. May has become June and still the Phillies lag near the bottom in the stolen-base department, unable to use a weapon that has been so valuable to them in the past.

The Phillies went into Saturday's game against San Diego 15th in the National League and 27th in the big leagues with 21 stolen bases. During their recent road trip, they needed a perfect game from Roy Halladay to win one of the games.

The other victory came courtesy of stolen bases by Victorino and Utley that accounted for runs that would not have been scored otherwise.

During their run of three straight National League East titles, the Phillies have finished either second or third in the National League in steals each season.

"You can't steal first, unfortunately," Amaro said, returning the conversation to the sputtering offense. "If we're not on base, we can't steal bases."

Yes, the recent offensive slide makes it more difficult to steal bases, but that doesn't explain why this team has been so reluctant to run. Both the New York Mets and the Padres have worse team on-base percentages than the Phillies, but they rank first and second in the National League in stolen bases.

Slow-starting Joe. After the Phillies were blanked by the Mets during the second game of their recent road trip, righthander Joe Blanton managed to escape an interview session because reporters were more interested in the AWOL offense.

Blanton, who opened the season on the disabled list with a strained muscle in his side, should be a cause for concern. Since returning, he is 1-4 with a 5.68 ERA in six starts.

"Part of it might be that he's still getting into pitching shape, I don't know," pitching coach Rich Dubee said. "He's generally getting hurt later in games, whether it's making a big mistake or whatever. But Joe's stuff is fine. I think the more mound time he has the better he is going to get."

That was the case a year ago. Through seven starts a year ago, he was 1-3 with a 6.86 ERA, but in the second half of the season he went 6-4 with a 3.62 ERA.

The good news. Manuel said before Friday night's game that he was pleasantly surprised with the way his team has pitched so far this season. He should be, especially when you consider the team has endured injuries to J.A. Happ, Brad Lidge, and Ryan Madson.

The most pleasant surprise might be Kyle Kendrick, who is 3-1 with a 2.56 ERA in his last six outings.

"He made some minor adjustments delivery-wise and he's getting the ball in on lefthanders, which he wasn't doing before," Dubee said.

There was a terrific sight at Citizens Bank Park on Thursday. With the team off, Kendrick spent the afternoon in the outfield throwing with ace Roy Halladay.

As a team, the Phillies were fourth in the National League with a 3.67 ERA going into Saturday's game. The bullpen ERA of 3.55 ranked seventh and the team had to be encouraged by what they saw from closer Brad Lidge in a perfect ninth inning Friday night.

Oh, yeah, and the Flyers are still playing. That's good for the Phillies, too.

Inside the Phillies:

Read The Inquirer's Phillies blog, The Phillies Zone, by Bob Brookover and Mat Gelb, at

nolead begins

Blog response of the week

Subject: Jayson Werth bats leadoff.

From: ALJ at 11:42 a.m. Wednesday: "Total panic by Manuel. There is too much talent in the lineup to not start hitting. Putting out a lineup like this will not help."