Tuesday, August 30, 2011

I Agree With Cole Hamels and Sean McDonough

The Phillies once again won last night, beating the Reds 3-2 in the first game of a four-game series out in Cincinnati. And while the win was all well and good, I have to tell you that I still disagree with Charlie Manuel's decision to lift Cole Hamels after 6 brilliant innings of work.

Listen, I know Hamels was making his first start after a stint on the 15-day DL with some shoulder discomfort. And I know that it's much more important to have Hamels ready to go 7, 8, 9 innings in October than it is in late August. But the fact of the matter is the Phillies, even with their 6.5-game lead over the Braves, need to keep winning every game they can to both secure the division and secure home-field advantage in the NL seeing as the Brewers are gaining ground.

So with Hamels having pitched 6 innings of 2-hit, 1-run, 7-strikeout, no-walk ball in just 76 pitches and saying he felt great and healthy, there was no reason he should have come out of the game. Especially when you consider a few things. Number one, one of the two hits he surrendered, the triple to Brandon Phillips that led to that one run, shouldn't have even been a hit. Hunter Pence slipped in the outfield as he got a little turned around, letting a ball drop that he should have easily caught. In that instance, I agree 100 percent with what ESPN broadcaster Sean McDonough said during the telecast. McDonough said he thinks that mishaps like Pence's slip and the Brandon Phillips error that was labeled a Chase Utley hit earlier should be considered errors because, well, the fact that Pence slipped was his error, just as the fact that Phillips tried to backhand toss a ball from far away was his error. The pitcher shouldn't be punished for that.

Then consider that Cole was completing dealing and mowing down the Reds with ease, not working too hard or straining himself. Further, the game was tied 1-1, with Homer Bailey matching Hamels' performance himself, striking out a ton of Phillies and rarely surrendering any good contact. With the game tied heading into the 7th, you never know how long the game could go. Shit, these two teams already played a 19-inning marathon in which the Phils ran out of pitchers once this year. Why use up a bullpen arm so early when your pitcher is dealing and only at 76 pitches? Also, Hamels' spot in the order was due up in the top of the 8th, so it would have made more sense to let him start the 7th and then pinch-hit for his spot in the 8th, or if he ran into trouble in the 7th, make a double switch. And finally, to cap it off, Cole wanted to stay in the game. He was engaged in a pretty lively discussion with Charlie and Dubee to stay in the game, and he said he felt great.

Yet Manuel decided to lift Cole after only 6 in a 1-1 tie, going to Antonio Bastardo, and he didn't even make a double switch at all, meaning no matter how the inning played out, the Phils would pretty much have to lift whatever bullpen arm closed out the 7th for a pinch-hitter.

I was confused and a little angery. It just seemed like a stupid decision to me, even as Rick Sutcliffe and Aaron Boone were trying to convince me having the bullpen get in the game was the best thing for the Phillies because it had been such a long time since the team played. Yeah, but yesterday they started a string of 33 games in 31 days, meaning the bullpen will certainly be called upon big time, so why not keep them as well-rested as possible to endure this brutal stretch?

Then again, Sutcliffe and Boone also tried to tell us that Reds really, honestly should consider trading Joey Votto to make room for Yonder Alonso because Votto is going to cost too much. This despite the fact that Votto has two more years on a friendly contract, is the reigning NL MVP and is one of the best players in baseball. Then one of them, I think Sutcliffe, actually said, "Well, if he puts a good at-bat together here, then you have to start thinking about it." What? If Yonder Alonso has one good at-bat late in a game against the Phillies in August of his rookie year, he's basically good enough to replace Joey Votto? Are you fucking nuts?

Even when I get the chance to get away from Tom McCarthy and Sarge, I still have to hear absolutely moronic statements. Though I do have to give Sutcliffe credit, he did a perfect, informative analysis on Ryan Hanigan changing the signs, calling for a fastball in but actually telling Homer Bailey to throw a breaking ball outside when he headed out to the mound to combat Wilson Valdez potentially stealing signs and relaying them to Shane Victorino.

That trickery caught Shane looking at strike three, completely fooled by a pitch. By the way, that at-bat by Victorino there in the 5th was absolutely horrible. It started out great, as he got ahead of Bailey 3-1 with runners on 2nd and 3rd with two outs. But then he chased a 3-1 slider that was in the dirt instead of locking in on a fastball and letting anything else go, then looked at said strike three on Hanigan and Bailey outfoxing him. It was extremely frustrating to watch, especially since the Phils had just tied it on a huge double by Wilson Valdez thanks to some shoddy outfield play, putting two runners in scoring position. But let's just say Shane made up for it later.

As Suttcliffe was insisting that removing Hamels was the best move for the Phillies in the 7th, Antonio Bastardo walked leadoff batter Votto, and I was really, really irritated. Of course, Bastardo then struck out the next three batters, making them all look foolish, so Antonio certainly did his job.

And after Wilson Valdez singled off Bailey to start the 8th and Michael Martinez failed to get a bunt down while hitting for Bastardo, not even Ryan Hanigan's smooth trickery could stop Shane this time. Bailey unleashed a first-ball breaking ball, and Victorino absolutely killed it, giving the Phils a 3-1 lead with just 6 outs to go.

See, had Manuel left Cole in to pitch the 7th, the game would be right where he wanted it, with Bastardo for the 8th and Ryan Madson for the 9th. But now Bastardo was already used, so the game was in the hands of the struggling Michael Stutes.

I mentioned this last week and it bears repeating: Stutes simply looks gassed right now. The kid was so good most of this season, but for the past month or so, he looks out of bullets. It's understandable for the rookie, who has pitched in a ton of games and more recently had been tasked with pitching multiple innings per outing by Charlie, which really baffled me.

And last night it was more of the same. Stutes looked like he's simply lost something on his pitches. Yeah, he was still throwing 92 and 93 mph, but that's down from the 94-96 he was hitting earlier in the year. And his off-speed pitches don't have the same bite, oftentimes staying up in the zone and getting hit hard. That was certainly the case in his inning of work last night. Yes, he did get out of it with the lead still intact, but Stutes was up in the zone, surrendered three hits and gave up a run to allow Cincy to get within one.

As good as he's been all year, if he doesn't turn it around soon and regain his early-season form, I'd feel terribly uncomfortable seeing him enter a tight ballgame in October.

Thankfully Stutes' run and Manuel's decisions didn't cost the Phils, as Madson closed the door in the 9th to give the Phils the 3-2 win. But I still disagree with the way Manuel managed his arms.

But I do agree, 100 percent, with Hamels wanting to stay in the game and with Sean McDonough's take on errors.

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