Phils Want Less Frustration as Camp Charlie Opens

At this point in the winter, we look for any signs of spring. Ahhh, there's one; Phillies pitchers and catchers report for duty today in Clearwater. For Phillies players and fans, the hope is that a more relaxed atmosphere will make for less frustration in an even tougher National League East.

If there was an award given out in baseball for Most Confounding Team, then the Phillies would have been strong contenders to win it last season.

It was a team that could crank up the long ball (the Phils had 215 homers in 2004, second-most in the NL) but had trouble knocking in runs the old-school way, with singles and sacrifice flies. It had plucked two workhorse pitchers from the playoff-tested rotations of other teams in Eric Milton and Kevin Millwood, yet injuries and ineptitude led to no Phillies pitcher having more than 14 wins, just one starter with more than 200 innings worked and ERAs that would have seemed more reasonable if they were racked up in the thin air of Denver.

It was a frustrating season, one that never seemed to get on track. Yet it somehow ended with the Phils 10 games over .500.

The Phillies enter 2005 with a team that hasn't undergone any major reconstruction - at least to the roster.

By far the most significant change to the face of the Phillies is the removal of Larry Bowa's creased mug from the manager's seat. The Bowa vs. The Players soap opera was one that hung like a waterlogged towel around the neck of the organization. The Phils removed that weight with the light-hearted hominess of Charlie Manuel, who has Jim Thome and a simple credo - "Work hard and you won't have any trouble" - working for him.

Milton and Millwood have left the building; replacing them in the rotation are RHPs Cory Lidle and Jon Lieber. Lidle actually got his Phillies career started in the final two months of 2004 and proved to be one of the few pitchers who didn't let the tight dimensions of Citizens Bank Park get in his head. Lieber is a former workhorse who had an encouraging 2004 for the Yankees after Tommy John surgery cost him a season and a half.

The lineup has a couple of subtle wrinkles. Kenny Lofton is the new center fielder after Marlon Byrd collapsed and created a messy situation there last season. Chase Utley swaps places with Placido Polanco at second base after proving himself ready for prime time in productive part-time duty in '04.

By and large, this is the same team that had high hopes in 2004. And yet the expectations this time around are significantly lower thanks to the headline-grabbing acrobatics performed by the front offices in New York, Atlanta and Florida this winter.

Could a little peace and quiet help this team? Or did the flurry of moves by the rest of the National League East leave the Phils in the dust? For a team that has had a knack for confounding those who think they have the answers, going against the grain this year would be a blessing for Philadelphia baseball fans.

WHERE and WHEN: Bright House Networks Field, Clearwater, Fla. First exhibition game is March 3 against Detroit.

WHO'S IN CHARGE: Manager Charlie Manuel (1st season as manager, 220-191 in three seasons as Cleveland manager), pitching coach Rich Dubee, hitting coach Milt Thompson, bench coach Gary Varsho, third-base coach Bill Dancy, first-base coach Marc Bombard, bullpen coach Ramon Henderson, catching instructor Mick Billmeyer.

TOP CANDIDATE TO SURPRISE: Chase Utley has waited for the opportunity to be an everyday performer in the big leagues. He gets that opportunity in 2005 after putting up encouraging production numbers (13 HRs, 57 RBIs in 267 at-bats) in sporadic action last season.

TOP CANDIDATE TO DISAPPOINT: Pat Burrell got off to a quick start in 2004 and seemed poised to put his horrific 2003 behind him. However, Burrell returned to some of his bad habits, then suffered a wrist injury and decided not to undergo surgery. He's a huge question mark once again this year.


  • The Phillies avoided arbitration with OF Jason Michaels, signing him to a one-year, $875,000 contract. Michaels, who hit .274 with 10 homers in 2004, was asking for $925,000, while the Phils countered with a $650,000 arbitration offer.
  • Randy Wolf has been running without complications and is ready for full workouts along with the other pitchers reporting today (February 17). Wolf had surgery on his right foot in December.
  • Cole Hamels underwent successful surgery to repair his broken left hand. The team's top pitching prospect will miss three months after breaking the hand during an altercation outside a nightclub in Clearwater, Fla.
  • THE NUMBERS GAME: 6 - Number of walks allowed by closer Billy Wagner in 48 1/3 innings of work last season.

    HE SAID WHAT? "We can be loose and we can have fun. But we have to win to have fun." - Manager Charlie Manuel.

    TOP ROOKIES: RHP Gavin Floyd would have been a lock for the starting rotation if the Phils had been unable to re-sign Cory Lidle. Floyd went 2-0 with a 3.49 ERA in six September appearances in 2004. The Phils would like the 22-year-old to show improvement in his stamina, but if (or when) a starter goes down, Floyd will get his opportunity.

    1B (and potentially, LF) Ryan Howard had a huge 2004, hitting 48 homers between Double-A, Triple-A and the big leagues. The massive, left-handed-hitting Howard strikes out a ton but has power to all fields. With Jim Thome ensconced at first base, the Phils will give Howard more time in left field this spring. However, Howard's future may still be with another organization.

    SPRING FOCUS: The Phillies once thought RHP Brett Myers would be a future ace of the staff. That doesn't seem like such a sure thing after Myers' horrendous 2004. Myers still has the stuff to be a dominating starter, but he needs to grow up, learn a little and prove he can apply and adapt on the mound.

    MEDICAL WATCH: Pat Burrell decided against surgery to fix a wrist he injured in the second half of last season. Was it the right move? We'll see. LHP Randy Wolf not only had elbow problems last season, but he also underwent surgery on his foot this winter.

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