Though the basic core of this team is solid, an extra bat, another reliever, or a pitcher who can make an emergency start here or there, would be a welcome move in support of our Fightins. We appear just a tad susceptible to injury or slump from our bench guys and bullpen types. Also as much as I like Brandon Duckworth, his inability to get past the fifth inning has put a terrible strain on our relievers, most of who (Plesac, Cormier, Wendell, Mesa) are just a bit long in the tooth. So, look for the Phils to acquire another reliever or someone who can provide bench strength, especially in the outfield. My choices? Outfielder Rondell White in San Diego or P Mike DeJean in Milwaukee.
Some quick notes, quotes and antidotes.... Nick Punto has become a very popular and useful player lately. His speed and defensive ability will become very important to the Phils this next two months. Speaking of Punto, he and his partners, Tyler Houston, Rickie Ledee, Todd Pratt and Tomas Perez, have formed the best bench this team has seen since 1993. They are versatile, talented and have wonderful attitudes.
Down on the pharm....hope you have all been following the exploits of last year's #1 pick, pitcher Cole Hamels. I wrote an article about him called Baby Steps in this column a few months ago...and those steps are growing larger. He is pitching lights out at Lakewood. In his latest start, he twirled a perfect game for six innings before being removed due to the very wise pitch count of 90. His 5-1 record is only part of the story. He has struck out 99 hitters in a bit over 60 innings and has an ERA of just over 1. Don't look now.... but a solid August for Mr. Hamels and we are possibly looking at possession of the Minor League Pitcher of the Year. If that's not the case, a close second to phenom Zack Greinke of the Royals, would be success royale!
Regardless of Hamels winning the honor or not, the thought of a future rotation of Hamels, Gavin Floyd, Brett Myers, Randy Wolf and Taylor Buchholtz is absolutely staggering. The Phillies are not perfect...but they do know pitching, and how to coach it. A young pitching draftee could do worse than to sign with the Phils. I'm not sure if such June draftees as Jordan Parraz, Mike Crotta, Blair Erickson or Greg Reynolds read this column, but if they do.... signing with the Phils would almost guarantee you will get great coaching up and down the organization.
Also on the pharm, our top pick third round second sacker Tim Moss made his professional debut on Friday by doubling in another high pick, fifth rounder, Javon Moran. Speaking of Moran, he is taking to wood bats like a fish takes to water.... a cool .338 batting average so far with 20 runs scored in only 18 games.
A few other minor league tidbits.... Chase Utley continues to hit well and will be a fixture in the Phils lineup for a long time. Write these names down for future reference.... Jake Blalock, brother of All-Star Game hero, Hank, has more power than his brother and seems headed for similar success and, last but not the least, Kiel Fisher, a young third baseman from Southern California. He was a surprise third round pick in 2002 and is very green, but his hitting potential and power skills appear genuine.
Now, back to the big boys...anyone else wake up every morning and say, "today is the day Pat Burrell breaks his slump"? And as of yet, today hasn't come. Maybe today?
Look for a big offensive second half from Bobby Abreu. He is hitting well below his .300 form and he is due to catch fire.
Speaking of catching fire, Marlon Byrd is red hot since being elevated to the lead off spot. I suspect neither is temporary, his streak or batting first. Byrd's professional history always indicated a slow period of development at every level. Once he gets acclimated, he shows great ability. He is becoming a strong candidate for NL Rookie of the Year.
Some stories around baseball...old, older and oldest. 40 years old Randy Johnson returned to the hill this week with the D'backs. If he is healthy, that team looks like a strong candidate for the wild card birth in the NL.
Forty-four year old Ricky Henderson must hope to play for EVERY team in baseball as he signed this week with the Dodgers. Make no mistake, he can still play. He homered in his second game with L.A.
And, finally, did anyone see where 77 year old Minnie Minoso played in a game as the designated hitter in an Independent League game this week, making him the only player to ever play in seven, count ‘em, seven decades! By the way, he walked! Yep, Minoso first played professionally in the 1940's.
One more look at our Phillies...it was a memorable weekend as the beloved 1993 team was back in town for their ten year reunion. Many looked like they could still suit up and play. We have had more talented teams, but very few teams ever quite captured the imaginations of a city so quickly as that team did. Some of the things they did may never be repeated in Philly.... holding on to first place for all but one day in the entire season, 5 starters all winning at least 12 games, the power, the energy, the exuberance in which they played each game.
Though their fame was fleeting, it is no less lasting and the memories they left us will stay forever...thanks, guys!
Columnist's Note: Questions, comments, and suggestions are welcome. Please send them to firstname.lastname@example.org, and I will respond! CD