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Phillies have wiggle room to catch up

The Phillies are flirting with the .500 mark with three-quarters of the season left, and past history suggests they will get hot once the weather does.

Charlie Manuel in baseball action against the Cleveland Indians Wednesday, May 15, 2013, in Philadelphia. (H. Rumph Jr/AP)
Charlie Manuel in baseball action against the Cleveland Indians Wednesday, May 15, 2013, in Philadelphia. (H. Rumph Jr/AP)Read more

ROY HALLADAY yesterday had surgery to repair his $20 million shoulder, which, with the rest of him, was 36 years and 1 day old. The surgery likely will end his season and surely will alter his career.

Mike Adams, the Phillies' featured addition to their pitching staff, has pitched through aches all season and is shelved for the time being with a back injury.

Veteran middle man Chad Durbin, usually lousy early in seasons, has been lousy early this season. Huge reliever Phillippe Aumont, a 24-year-old who had pitched in 31 major league games since he was called up in late August, has pitched like a giant 24-year-old with about a half-season of experience.

Jimmy Rollins finished the 10-4 loss to Cleveland hitting .255.

Ryan Howard was at .245.

The Phillies stood at 19-22.

Which is fine.

"We haven't even played lukewarm baseball," Howard said.

Certainly, they would like to be three or four games better.

Certainly, they wish Halladay hadn't Freddy Garcia'd them, his ragged right shoulder costing them three possible wins.

They expected to score more than 11 runs, total, in their previous nine losses behind Cole Hamels and Cliff Lee.

Still, any team near .500 at the 41-game mark needn't worry too much about its future.

Not with Lee and Hamels at the front of the rotation, Hamels' five-inning, five-run speed bump yesterday notwithstanding. Not with Jonathan Papelbon in the back of the bullpen, pitching as well as anyone in baseball.

Not with warm weather coming.

Not with a healthy Howard and Rollins and Lee and Hamels and Papelbon and Chase Utley.

Not with versatile outfielder John Mayberry Jr. emerging from a 3-for-21 slide with five hits the past two games.

And especially not with Rollins' current eight-game stretch, hitting .324 with seven RBI and four extra-base hits.

In the Phillies' run to their first three division titles, Rollins and Howard - heck, the team in general - was little better than mediocre at this point.

In 2007, they won 20 of their first 41 games; in 2008, 22; in 2009, 23.

Rollins was hitting .279, .286 and .234, respectively.

Howard was hitting .204, .182 and .252.

Not only does Rollins' batting average rise with the temperatures, but his slugging percentage jumps markedly, by as much as 90 points comparing April to September.

Howard's comparison is nearly 150 points better.

"They do tend to play better throughout the season," said Utley, who typically is hotter when it's cold. He has been the best hitter so far, at .281 with seven homers and 24 RBI, but he is eager to share the burden with Rollins and Howard: "That certainly will help us."

Howard understands.

"It's still somewhat early," he said after his 0-for-4 performance. "We haven't started to play the kind of ball we're capable of."

Two wins in Arizona and a comeback Tuesday to beat Cleveland showed promise, and potential.

"It's a matter of getting over the hump," Howard said. "We've got room for growth."

Carlos Ruiz, 2 1/2 weeks removed from a 25-game suspension, won't hit .234 all season. He had two hits yesterday and has a hit in each of his last eight games.

Hamels won't go 1-6 in his next nine starts; at least, not if he starts to get the corners his 92 career wins have earned him.

Besides, the rest of the National League East is flawed, too.

The Braves have gone 10-17 since a 12-1 start. The Nationals started 7-2 but had gone 14-16 since then, going into last night's game at the Dodgers.

The Phillies, meanwhile, are 5-4 in their last nine games, all against winning teams. Only one of their series losses has come to a team under .500.

They have not played scrubs, and they have not played like scrubs.

"It's not that bad," manager Charlie Manuel said. "We can't afford to fall 10 or 12 or 15 games under .500, and we need to put a string together."

That would be more realistic if the sixth and seventh innings from their bullpen were not biweekly brush fires, but there seems to be no ready answer for that. They have signed Carlos Zambrano, the Madman of the Midway, to a minor league deal, but, with a four-man rotation and with rookie Jonathan Pettibone part of it, Zambrano is starter insurance.

As for the rest, well . . . between Hamels, Ruiz, Rollins and Howard, there are plenty of wins to be earned.

"We've got the room," Howard said, "to continue to get better."

Today on David Murphy takes the contrary view, wondering if you can really assume anything about this bunch. And check out the photo gallery from Wednesday's debacle.