Healthy concern: Pence pulled as Phils drop 2
The meaningless losses to the Nationals were overshadowed by the rightfielder's knee injury.
After one loss to Washington on Monday, Phillies manager Charlie Manuel advised against leaping off the Walt Whitman Bridge. After two losses to Washington on Tuesday, Manuel laughed at the mere idea of needing to scold his team.
This is meaningless baseball, and his players have treated it as such. If it were Game 161, then Manuel would have cause for concern. It's not; eight games remain.
"I can scream and holler just as loud as anybody," Manuel said. "But sometimes, that ain't the way."
No, all that Manuel must concern himself with is health.
That's what made the news late Tuesday night after two losses - by 4-3 and 3-0 to the Nationals - worrisome. Rightfielder Hunter Pence was removed from the first game with an undisclosed knee injury and kept out of the second because he will undergo an MRI Wednesday for what initially has been diagnosed as patellar tendinitis in his left knee.
The team is downplaying the injury, calling the MRI "precautionary." Pence agreed, saying he could play as early as Wednesday. He said he has dealt with the injury all season but it has not been severe enough to sideline him.
"I didn't really feel it necessary," Pence said, "but I'm going to do what they want me to do."
Even if it's minor, the Phillies have limited time to field their regular lineup before the postseason begins. Ryan Howard is out until at least Thursday with inflammation in his left ankle. Carlos Ruiz's ankle is hurting, too, but he lasted the entire game Tuesday night. Chase Utley and Jimmy Rollins are just returning from injury.
The Phillies have scored three or fewer runs in 12 of 13 games, which is more of a commentary on the juggled lineup than anything. And, after all, the Phils have a .405 winning percentage when they score three or fewer runs - the best for any team since the 1995 Atlanta Braves.
At one point in Tuesday's first game, the Phillies fielded this nine: John Bowker, Wilson Valdez, John Mayberry Jr., Brandon Moss, Ben Francisco, Erik Kratz, Pete Orr, Michael Martinez, and Michael Schwimer. Six of those players spent time in triple A this season.
"I'm not worried," Manuel said. "I'd just like to see us play better. I'm not worried. We clinched our division a few days ago. I wouldn't call it going through the motions. I'll say that we're not focused. We're not really focused into the game."
"Charlie is right," Pence said. "I don't think any of us like the way it's going right now. Hopefully, it's a little bit of a wake-up call, and I think that could ultimately be a good thing to go through this now and come out of it."
They have time. Manuel said he will rest his regulars for the next three games and then begin fielding his best lineup Saturday in New York through the end of the season.
Given the lineup shuffling, the lethargy that has set in since the team won the division hardly bothers the manager.
"It would be better if we're going well," Manuel said. "At the same time, that doesn't mean we won't go well when the playoffs start. The adrenaline is different."
While Kyle Kendrick pitched well enough to win the matinee Tuesday, Cliff Lee allowed a season-high 11 hits in the nightcap. But his left arm remained attached. Health is all that matters for these Phillies right now.
The wins? They can come later, once the calendar turns to October.