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Manuel won't take hit for what ailed Phillies' offense

MORE THAN once, as the regular season wound down, Charlie Manuel would sit in the dugout before a Phillies game and direct his listeners to take a look at the batting averages next to the names of the hitters in that night's lineup.

(Sarah J. Glover/Staff Photographer)
(Sarah J. Glover/Staff Photographer)Read more

MORE THAN once, as the regular season wound down, Charlie Manuel would sit in the dugout before a Phillies game and direct his listeners to take a look at the batting averages next to the names of the hitters in that night's lineup.

His point: For the most part, they weren't very good.

Now that a lack of offense has torpedoed the franchise's hopes of winning another world championship, general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. has, ahem, "challenged" his manager and hitting coach Greg Gross to transform these same fellows into more productive hitters.

With that as much as a backdrop as the familiar Phillies logos behind the Citizens Bank Park lectern where he does his postgame interviews, Manuel conducted a postmortem press conference yesterday.

And it quickly became clear that he isn't going to shrink from the task ahead, but neither is he prepared to take all the blame for what went wrong.

"I take a lot of pride in hitters," he said. "I know how good a hitting coach I am and don't care whether you want to believe that or not."

He also made it plain that nothing that he and Gross will try to impart to the hitters will be a new message.

"[Amaro] would like to see us grind out more at-bats, learn how to work more counts, plate discipline," the manager said. "All those things he talked about, I talk about. I teach that. It's a matter of keep reminding guys."

The problem is that, in the end, the hitter has to execute at the plate. Don't you suppose there have been conversations with, say, Ryan Howard about not chasing off-speed pitches in the dirt? Of course there have. And there have been similar discussions with every batter on the roster at one time or another.

Manuel reacted strongly when asked if he thought the players might have begun to tune him out.

"Do the players listen to me? Without a doubt," he said. "I know they listen to me. Do every one of them? There might be somebody who didn't get to play or who's upset or something . . . [but] I think they listen to me."

Still, there's only so much talking he can do. Veteran players with high salaries tend to reason that doing it their way is how they have gotten to where they are. And all the good intentions in the world can go out the window in the split second he has to decide whether to take a pitch or swing away.

One thing Manuel stressed was making adjustments and not being afraid to hit with two strikes.

"If you don't like to, or are afraid to, go deep in the count or to hit with two strikes on you, you're going to get anxious," he explained. "You'll be aggressive and chase bad balls. At times we'll take a fastball right down the middle, [then the pitcher] will throw a breaking ball down and we'll roll over on it and swing at it and miss. That's not good hitting.

"We talk about that all the time. That's how I talk to our hitters, and so does [Gross]."

This isn't going to be easy. A popular train of thought is that Manuel doesn't play enough small ball, but the reality is that this roster doesn't have an abundance of speed, for the most part doesn't have proficient bunters and strikes out too much to make the hit-and-run a reliable weapon.

All the talking in the world isn't going to change that, although Manuel did point out that it's too early to know exactly who will be in Clearwater when spring training opens next year. And whether shortstop Jimmy Rollins, who turns 33 next month, stays or goes as a free agent will have a big impact on how the lineup is constructed.

Howard was operated on by Dr. Mark Myerson in Baltimore yesterday to repair the ruptured left Achillies' tendon he suffered on the final play of the NLDS loss to the Cardinals. The surgery revealed that Howard suffered a complete tear.

The Phillies are hopeful Howard will be able to play by the start of the season. How quickly, and how fully, he recovers will also be huge.

But Manuel and Gross will do what they can. Maybe they can work on getting better leads, especially from second base. If good health keeps the manager from having to use 105 different lineups as he did this year, that would also be a plus.

After that, who knows? It's sort of like when the Phillies let pitching coach Claude Osteen go on the last day of the 1988 season. He wished his successor well, then added almost wistfully: "All I know is he won't tell them anything I didn't try to."


The New York Daily News reports that former Phillies All-Star shortstop and manager Larry Bowa is no longer under consideration to be the new bench coach for Mets manager Terry Collins. The story added that it's not clear whether the Mets backed off or if Bowa was not interested.