FOR THE THIRD TIME in the season's first month, rain pushed back a baseball game in South Philly. The Phillies' scheduled contest with the New York Mets last night was postponed; it will be played on Monday, June 2, at 7:05 p.m.
As a result of the rainout, the first month of the season is in the books for the Phillies (13-13). And, for the first time in three seasons, they won't have a losing record on May 1. When made aware of the fact, general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. chuckled. His team was still in fourth place in a five-team division, of course.
But he had to be somewhat encouraged, given the ominous forecasts from nearly every impartial observer at spring training a month ago, right?
"Yeah, we have to be encouraged," Amaro said yesterday. "The good thing is our overall health has been good. We're at full strength in our rotation now, too. We just have to be more consistent in the bullpen, have more consistency on offense and catching the baseball . . . We haven't had a ton of production from our third baseman or leftfielder, in terms of run production, and we expect both of those guys to give us more."
With April (and March 31, too) in the books, Amaro fielded a phone call from the Daily News for a quasi-state of the Phillies. Amaro addressed everything from the lack of production at third base and declining attendance to odd numbers from the rotation and his search for bullpen help.
Question: What's been the most encouraging sign after the first month?
Answer: I think the health. The veteran guys have been on the field and have shown they can be productive. A lot of production from Chooch [Carlos Ruiz] and Chase [Utley]. [Ryan] Howard has shown power and the ability to drive in some runs. [Marlon] Byrd has hit the ball with some authority and Jimmy [Rollins] is getting on base, getting extra-base hits. So the fact that they're all playing, producing and that I think we're going of have one of the best rotations if they're on the field. That's big for us.
Q: Speaking of that rotation: Heading into Wednesday, your starters ranked 12th (out of 15) in the NL with a 4.06 ERA and are also in the bottom third of the league in opponents' batting average (.290, 14th), OBP (.343) and strikeout-to-walk ratio (2.63). Weird to hear that, coming off a road trip when they pitched well?
A: I like our rotation. I like the way they've pitched - they've kept us in games for the most part. I'm comfortable with where we're at. KK [Kyle Kendrick] has thrown well. I think a couple of those numbers are out of whack; you had those two outings from [Cliff] Lee [his first and last]. Early in the year, numbers can get skewed.
Q: What about the bullpen, which has already seen every righthander that began the season [except Jonathan Papelbon] shipped out to Triple A? Do you need to look outside for help?
A: We've already started looking outside with other teams and also with possible free agents. We've touched base with a couple of them to see if they're fits. We're taking a peek.
Q: Do you have money in the budget to acquire a free-agent reliever? (Former closer Joel Hanrahan worked out for teams in Tampa last week.)
A: We'll figure it out. If there's money to spend and we feel it's something we should do, then we'll have to address it.
Q: You mentioned lack of production at third base. (Phillies third basemen are hitting .160 with a .478 OPS, last in baseball in each stat). How long can you be patient there?
A: I think Cody [Asche] has been a slow starter at every level. And it may take a little longer; this is the most difficult level to produce at. There's more scrutiny, more pressure. I think he needs to get his feet on the ground and get going. He's a talented kid. I think we need to be patient with him.
Q: No player probably entered this season as more of a question mark than Ryan Howard after playing half a season the last 2 years with leg injuries. What do you make of his month? Is there more there? (Howard hit .255 with an .803 OPS and a team-high five home runs; only Utley has more total bases. He also struck out 31 times in 98 at-bats).
A: I think there is plenty more there. As I've said in the past, when he's on the field, he's on the field to produce. He just has to be on the field. He's been maybe more streaky than in the past, but I think he'll continue to produce as long as he's playing.
Q: You guys have only played nine games at Citizens Bank Park. No team in baseball has had fewer games at home. But the average attendance (28,987, 14th in baseball) is down from last year (37,190 average, eighth in baseball) and obviously from 2 years ago (44,021, first in baseball). Is that a concern?
A: Yeah, it's a concern. We have to be concerned with it, but we have a lot of loyal fans. And they're fans that are hopeful and champing at the bit that we win. That's the nature of the beast in Philadelphia. If you win, people will come. If they don't, it makes it more of a challenge. That's how it works here.