SportsProf

(Hopefully) good sports essays and observations for good sports by a guy who tries (and can sometimes fail) to be a good sport.

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Sunday, June 28, 2009

Bad At-Bat of the Week

Late last week the Phillies were playing the Rays in that place that once must have been a regional distribution center for Sam's Club when Rays' pitcher Matt Garza got a bit wild. The Rays had the lead, and Garza walked three straight batters. The Phillies are rather lucky right now, clinging to first despite losing 12 of their last 14 and resembling more the Bad News Bears than the defending world champions. So, you'd figure that the Phillies were going to score some runs.

Enter Jayson Werth, the Phillies' rightfielder, who promptly swings at the first pitch, a breaking ball that he pounds into the ground. Seconds later, its a 5-2-3 double play. Two outs, men on second and third, Garza gets the next hitter, and the Rays are out of the inning and go on to win the game.

Werth is a valuable member of the Phillies, a great athlete and a solid contributor. But on this particular night, he committed a bonehead baseball play. Why? Because Garza was so wild that Werth should have been taking until the Rays' hurler threw one strike. Sure, a contrarian view would be that Garza was so wild that he was desperate to throw a strike and would even have grooved one to try to get ahead of the hitters. While that's plausible, he threw a breaking ball that didn't look like a fat pitch. And he grounded into a double play.

That's when you know your team is faring poorly. The Phillies are suffering. #2 starter Brett Myers, who was off to a rocky start, is out for the year. #1 starter Cole Hamels is laboring and #3 starter Jamie Moyer can't fool hitters all the time any more. Thankfully, #4 starter Joe Blanton has been pitching like an ace, and #5 starter J.A. Happ looks like a keeper, but he hasn't pitched a full major-league season yet. The bullpen is ailing -- Brad Lidge hasn't returned to form, set-up man Ryan Madson had his confidence shaken filling in for Lidge, lefty reliever J.C. Romero hasn't returned to form after his suspension, Scott Eyre has spent time on the D.L., Clay Condrey, who excelled in long and middle relief last year, is on the D.L. and I heard yesterday that Chan Ho Park might be joining him. Jack Taschner has struggled. All of which, of course, makes MLB TV's reality show about the Phillies' bullpen compelling watching, but make sure that you have your programs handy, as well as your medical journals.

Still, for the Phillies, it's not even July 1, and the team usually waits until late summer to put itself into high gear and then blow past its opponents. Sometimes, though, that's hard to do, and it's hard to get into that gear when not a whole lot from your prior play tells you you're able to do so. Then again, expect Raul Ibanez to return soon, Jimmy Rollins to hit better than he's been hitting, the bullpen to get healthier and the team to add a top-of-the-rotation starter before July 31. Something tells me that guy will be the Indians' Cliff Lee, not that the team needs another lefty. It's just that Jake Peavy is on the D.L. and doesn't seem to want to pitch in a hitter's park, Chris Young also is on the D.L. and as a fly-ball pitcher probably wouldn't fare well in Citizens Bank Park, Roy Halladay is on the D.L., too expensive and probably unavailable, and Roy Oswalt might not be available (he's close to the Astros' owner, has a lot of $ left on his contract and has a no-trade; then again, the Astros have a bad farm system and might want to induce Oswalt to go so that they can get a few prospects to help fortify their system). Still, you have to believe that GM Ruben Amaro is working the phones.

I don't want to put too much emphasis on Jayson Werth's at-bat, only to say that when your team isn't faring well, it does things like that.

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