Lieber and Pratt Becoming Dynamic Duo

Years ago, Steve Carlton and Tim McCarver were a fixture in the Phillies lineup. When lefty was on the mound, McCarver was always just 60 feet, 6 inches away. Now, there is another growing duo in Philadelphia. Jon Lieber and Todd Pratt have helped each other have success with the 2005 Phillies.

Signed to be the Phillies' number one starter in the offseason, Jon Lieber looked nothing like an ace for a two-month stretch in May and June. Since July he has turned things around, and at least some of the credit might belong to backup catcher Todd Pratt.

Pratt has caught each of Lieber's last ten starts, including his six-inning outing in Wednesday's 4-3 win over the Nationals. In that stretch he has a 4.69 ERA, but that number falls to 3.29 when a nine-run inning at Colorado on July 31 is not considered.

Lieber also is 4-3 in that stretch, and Wednesday's victory over Washington gave him a team-leading 12 wins on the season.

"Any time you have someone catch you several times in a row, you develop a comfort zone," Lieber said. "It's going to help my game. The catcher gets to know you, and you can just go with what you got."

Manager Charlie Manuel has kept Pratt and Lieber together since June 30, a game Lieber lost after giving up five runs in four innings. But he turned things around two starts later and has posted quality starts in six of his last eight outings.

"It seems like they interact very well," Manuel said. "Their rhythm and timing together are very good."

Lieber has also given up two runs or less in five of his last six outings, and is establishing himself to be the savvy veteran the Phillies need during the pennant chase.

The tandem has also worked well for Todd Pratt. Generally relegated to playing only when the Phillies played a day game following a night game, Pratt has seen increased action. Part of that reason is his work with Lieber, and part is because of the offensive struggles of Mike Lieberthal.

Not long ago, it looked like Pratt would be considering retirement at the end of the season. He had talked openly about his interest in managing someday and it looked like that pursuit could be starting sooner rather than later. Now, with increased playing time and soime success when he is in the lineup, retirement might wait for another season. "I think that I would have a lot to give as a manager, but that can always wait," said Pratt.

With his 2-for-3 performance Wednesday night, Pratt is now hitting .262 on the season and has seven homeruns, just one away from a career high. It's also possible that Pratt could set his career mark for at bats in a season. He currently has 126 at bats – two less than all of last season – and his career high is 160 set in 2000 when he was a member of the New York Mets. "I love to play and I still feel pretty good," said Pratt. "It's still fun."

At one point, it was almost a foregone conclusion that Pratt would be spending his last season in Philadelphia. Young Carlos Ruiz is putting up nice numbers at Scranton and figured to take Pratt's job. With the success that both Ruiz and Pratt are having, the Phillies may try to deal Mike Lieberthal during the offseason and hand the catching job to Ruiz and Pratt in some sort of split for next season.

For the immediate future though, Pratt will be behind the plate when Lieber is on the mound. There is no reason to break up the success that the two have had in working with each other. Pratt will also continue to get other starts over the slumping Lieberthal. It's a plan that has worked well for the Phillies over the last six weeks and figures to continue for the rest of the season.

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