No one wants to be that team. The team who people say just couldn’t stay healthy. Around this time last season I wrote that the bullpen would be one of the few things that could derail the Phillies. You could say the same for this season, but all projections of parades and greatness assume health. You have to stay healthy to win in any sport and no matter how much you like Wilson Valdez or Vance Worley or Brian Schneider, playing those guys every day probably isn’t going to lead to the best results. The Phils are far from crippled with injuries at this point, but you just hope that this isn’t the start of another year like 2010 when they hardly could keep their starting eight on the field for a week at a time.
Before we look at the injuries we might want to take notice at the people around baseball trying to poke holes in the Phillies. First, it was Bobby Valentine the new voice of Sunday Night Baseball (can you say sideways move?). Anyway, Valentine danced around calling the Phillies overrated. He didn’t say they were going to be a .500 team or anything, but as far as a truly elite team, a 100-win caliber team, he didn’t see it. The only thing he likes about the Phillies is their rotation. The rest, he could do without. Then comes Jayson Stark’s article about opposing teams “figuring out” Phillies hitters. There is some truth in what Stark says, eventually you stop seeing fastballs when you show you can’t hit anything else, but it’s always a bit startling to see anything remotely negative about the Phils from Stark. Even though he’s been off the Phillies beat for a long time he can’t hide the shine he has still has for the boys.
On the injury front, some are more worrisome than others. I’m not going to trot out the old line, “maybe this is the best thing that could have happened to Dom Brown.” You never want to be hurt, especially in your hands or wrists, but Domonic was struggling. And, whether he wanted to admit it or not, he was pressing. No one is going to come out and say they are, but you combine the expectations with Ben Francisco’s hot start to the spring, and it would be impossible not to press. Brown wasn’t headed toward a starting job anyway, and now he can hopefully start the season in some anonymity in Lehigh Valley instead of with the major league club. Brown needs at-bats and confidence, which is something that wasn’t materializing in Clearwater. Something else to focus on aside from trying to win the job (meaning his rehab), could be good for him.
Chase Utley is a much bigger problem. First, Chase was sore. Then he had tendinitis. We’ve climbed up another notch to get the cortisone shot. The plan is to wait until Monday or Tuesday to evaluate the effectiveness. Utley still doesn’t seem to be close to playing in a spring game, and even with about 4 weeks left the clock is starting to tick. Utley is far more important than Brown for all the obvious reasons. The Phillies don’t have any kind of reasonable replacement in terms of offensive production. Utley was also supposed to be one of the guys that picked up some of the slack from last year. It will be hard for him to do that if he gets too far behind schedule. The good news is, he is still taking BP, but that’s a mile away from seeing game action. If Chase isn’t back in the lineup a week from today, I think there will be cause for real concern.
It isn’t all bad news out of camp, though. The starting pitching has been mostly as good as advertised. Cliff Lee will get his second outing under his belt Sunday afternoon, but Hamels and Halladay look ready to start the season. I imagine the biggest obstacle for those two in the coming weeks might be boredom. There is also the emergence of Ben Francisco who took the first week of spring training and dropped some Josh Hamilton numbers on everyone. It’s far too early to talk about Francisco being handed 150 starts in right field, but the best thing I’ve heard about Ben this spring is that he’s carrying himself differently. He’s got this mixture of confidence and a little chip on the shoulder that everyone around him has noticed.
Guess that is about it on the Phils for now. I’m going to go check them out on the TV machine in a minute here against the Rays and vicariously suck up some of that Florida sunshine. I still think there is plenty of reason to be optimistic, and in about a week or so when things are really cranking we might have a better idea of where the Phillies stand.