We Can Probably Start Worrying Now

Good teams can generally cover the hole when one player is struggling. Very good teams may be able to win even with a couple of players struggling. But few teams can win when there are a number of key regulars struggling and that's where the Phillies are at right now.

After his last start - a seven-run, 2 1/3 inning pounding last week against the Mets - Jamie Moyer said he planned to watch the video from one of the best starts of his long, distinguished career to remind himself how it looks when he's pitching well.

It didn't work.

Six days after that miserable night in New York, Moyer got battered again. This time, the Los Angeles Dodgers tagged him for five runs in the fourth inning and two in the fifth, leading to a 9-2 Phillies loss Wednesday night before another sellout crowd at Citizens Bank Park and once again keeping Moyer from his 250th career victory.

"What are you going to do?" Moyer said. "It's the same story I gave you last week."

Actually, it's been the same story for several weeks. Since he allowed one run in six innings April 26 in a win at Florida, Moyer has yielded 19 runs in 12 1/3 innings for a 13.86 ERA. It's his worst three-game stretch since May 6-18, 2005, when he allowed 17 runs in 10 innings for a 15.30 ERA in back-to-back-to-back starts against the Red Sox and Yankees.

But there is little the Phillies can do with Moyer except allow the 46-year-old left-hander to continue making starts. Despite his age, they signed him to a two-year, $13 million extension last winter, and at this stage of his career, he isn't a candidate to pitch out of the bullpen.

Manager Charlie Manuel said lefty J.A. Happ will start one game in Saturday's doubleheader in Washington, but at this point, he won't replace Moyer in the rotation.

"I don't see how (Moyer) can get right by sitting," Manuel said. "I don't think that can get him right. You can sit him down, but what's that going to do?"

Said Moyer, "I'm not making the pitches I'd like to be making. Every mistake I've made has gotten hit hard. That's more or less how I'm feeling. The mistakes I'm making I'm being punished for. It's got to be mistake-free."

That's a tough way to pitch. And after Moyer led the Phillies with 16 wins last season, it's reasonable to wonder if, at his age, he can still be as effective.

"If I start to doubt, then it's time for me to go home," Moyer said. "I've done this over 500 times. So, you know what, I don't really worry about what's behind me."

But Moyer is just one of the struggling pitchers on the Phillies staff. Chan Ho Park appears to have straightened himself out, thanks in part to an improved sinker that he's used effectively in his last two starts.

Brett Myers has pitched average, at best, even in his better outings of the season and has a 4.81 ERA through seven starts. Joe Blanton has struggled horribly in five of his six starts this season, but has lowered his ERA to 6.82, which gives an idea of just how badly he's pitched.

In the bullpen, Brad Lidge is looking like the Brad Lidge that lost the closer's job in Houston and nowhere near the closer that the Phillies relied on last season.

Offensively, the attention has been on a struggling Jimmy Rollins, who has gone 2-for-7 against the Dodgers to rally his average up to the .200 mark on the season. Rollins struggles have served to obscure the offensive struggles of Carlos Ruiz, who is hitting just .212 and has yet to drive in a run this season, although he did miss time while he was on the DL.

On the bench, the team of Eric Bruntlett, Miguel Cairo, Chris Coste and Greg Dobbs are hitting a combined .164 on the season.

Luckily for the Phillies, J.A. Happ (1-0, 2.75) has done an admirable job in long relief and has been mentioned as a replacement for Park in the starting rotation. With Park's rebound, Happ is likely to stay in the bullpen, but could be called upon if Moyer, Blanton or Myers continue to struggle.

Clay Condrey (3-0, 2.84), Chad Durbin (1-0, 3.44) and Ryan Madson (2-1, 2.51) have all pitched well in relief for the Phillies.

The odds of moving a player like Rollins out of the lineup or moving Moyer out of the rotation aren't very high. Other moves though - Moyer and/or Blanton to the bullpen - could be made if their seasons don't turn around.

The Phillies have Happ to potentially plug into the rotation, along with a rejuvenated Kyle Kendrick at Triple-A, who could potentially offer help in the rotation. Ben Sheets figures to be healthy soon and is an unsigned free agent, as is former Phillie Paul Byrd. Any of those names could provide help for the Phillies starting rotation. Pablo Ozuna (hitting .270 at Lehigh Valley) could potentially take over a bench spot and perhaps the Phillies would look at easing catcher Lou Marson into some playing time behind the plate if Ruiz and Coste continue to struggle.

The fact that the Phillies have so many players struggling has now got to be a concern. There are some relatively easy patches for some of the holes, but other solutions could be difficult to come by. For now, the Phillies need to hope for a turn around by these key players, even while keeping one eye on a search for potential help for the club as we near Memorial Day and the first unofficial checkpoint of the 2009 season.

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