Not Off Charlie's Band Wagon - Yet

It may be an unpopular stance to take, but I for one am not ready to lay the blame at the feet of manager Charlie Manuel; at least not yet. There are plenty of others to blame, although Manuel shares in the team's early season failures. At the very least, Manuel has brought somewhat of an "outside the box" attitude to the Phillies.

There are all of the horrid numbers to show why the Phillies have struggled. Numbers like .228, .253, .213 and .232; the averages of Jimmy Rollins, Placido Polanco, David Bell and Mike Lieberthal, respectively. Oh, and there is also 95 million, as in dollars that the Phillies have spent on their payroll that isn't exactly being well spent.

For all of the failure of his players, Manuel has tried to make things happen. He's brought a different approach to filling out lineup cards and is doing all he can, including holding personal one-on-ones with his players, to turn the Phillies around.

Placido Polanco, who has started 13 games at second base, two at third base and three in left field this season, added shortstop to his 2005 resume Monday when Jimmy Rollins was out of the starting lineup for the first time this season.

It was Polanco's first action at shortstop since he started nine games there in 2002 with the Cardinals. The most action Polanco saw at shortstop came in 2001 when he made 29 starts there while Edgar Renteria was injured.

"I think he can play all of the outfield positions and all of the infield positions," manager Charlie Manuel said of Polanco. "I like to have a guy who can do that, because when he's in the game you can shuffle things around and always put him somewhere."

It isn't Polanco's preferred method of use, but he'll take the playing time.

"I'd rather be playing second base every day," said Polanco. "When you play other places (than your regular position) you have to think about what to do out there."

Despite his displeasure, Polanco said it doesn't matter in the big picture. "We all should be here for one purpose - winning," he said.

As for Rollins, Manuel wanted to give his struggling leadoff hitter a rest. A 1-for-13 weekend in Chicago dropped his average - which had been .305 as late as April 19 - to .237. Rollins also has just three walks in his last 25 games.

"I just wanted Jimmy to sit and watch the game (Monday)," said Manuel, who batted OF Jason Michaels and his team-leading .429 on-base percentage in the leadoff spot. "I talked to him (Rollins). I told him he needs to be more patient. Pitchers are starting to pitch him backwards. They're throwing him off-speed pitches when they're behind in the count because they know he's being aggressive and looking for a fastball to drive."

As for Jason Michaels, he didn't have to think long to name the last time he batted leadoff before Monday. "June, 1996. The Virginia Valley League," Michaels said. "I had just signed with (the University of) Miami out of junior college." In his professional debut as leadoff hitter he went 1-for-4 with his first homerun of the season.

Pat Burrell, who is hitting .185 (10-for-54) since opening the season with a 10-game hitting streak, found himself on the bench Sunday as Manuel opted for Placido Polanco in left field.

Did any of these changes help? Not much, if at all, but they were at least done with the idea of bringing change and they made sense.

Other moves, like pulling Marlon Byrd, who had an .800 (4-for-5) career batting average against Carlos Zambrano, for pinch-hitter Jose Offerman with two outs and the tying run on third base in the ninth inning Sunday, haven't made sense. Offerman struck out to end the game.

Hopefully, Manuel can bring some change to young Ryan Howard, who has struggled since coming to Philly to replace the injured Jim Thome.

It hasn't been a very good opening week for Howard as Thome's replacement at first base. He has just one hit - an infield single - in 14 at bats after going 0-for-4 with four groundouts Sunday.

The Phillies were hoping that Howard, who hit 48 home runs between Double-A, Triple-A and the majors last season, could provide a lift to a struggling offense that has scored two runs or fewer in 12 of the Phils' last 25 games. That hadn't happened.

Manager Charlie Manuel said the big guy's tepid opening week won't discourage him from putting Howard in the lineup. When a dejected Howard was still sitting in the dugout after the loss, Manuel went up to him with some words of consolation.

"I told him to keep his head up," Manuel said. "I think he wants to show that he can hit. I know he can. I've seen him knock runs in like that. You got to remember that he can change a game with one swing of the bat."

By the time the clubhouse doors opened after the game, Howard's chin was up.

"I'm not worried about what the average is. I'm not even sure what it is," Howard said. "I know when the hits start falling in, my average will start going up. I'm just trying to get at-bats and make good contact."

Nobody can say for sure whether Jim Leyland, Willie Randolph or Larry Bowa for that matter would have done better or worse than Manuel has in the early going. Leyland may have been out of touch with the league and the players, Randolph has certainly had a learning curve in New York and Larry Bowa is, well, Larry Bowa. The fact is that we have Charlie Manuel to kick around in town and his 35 game honeymoon is over.

My magical date is June 3rd. On that morning, the Phillies should have played 54 games - one-third of their schedule - and we will all know whether this team can rebound from their weak early start. On that date, the Charlie Manuel bandwagon officially stops and where things stand on that date will determine whether I exit or stay with Charlie for the long haul as the manager of these Philadelphia Phillies.

Philly Baseball Insider Top Stories