"That's where you can really lose ground quick," he said. "We have to keep our head above water in April."
The Phillies face every National League East opponent except the Mets this month, adding to the sense of first-month urgency.
Though Manuel wasn't here for the past two seasons of bloodletting between these two teams, Marlins manager Jack McKeon certainly was.
McKeon especially remembers the intensity of the 2003 race that came down to the final week of the season, when his team eliminated the Phillies.
"That was an exciting time, and we managed to come out on top," said McKeon, who went on to lead Florida to a World Series championship that year. "That is a very good team over there. They're not going to be pushovers for anybody. I think the NL East is the best division in baseball."
Kenny Lofton looked spry on Monday, despite the wrap on his right hamstring. Though Lofton said he could play if needed, Manuel went with Jason Michaels.
That's something Manuel was going to do all along, since the Phillies were facing left-hander Al Leiter.
"Jason Michaels has to play out there, too," Manuel said. "I want him to get at-bats."
Aaron Fultz looked out on the field at Dolphins Stadium and was taken back to April 5, 2000, while with the Giants.
Fultz made his Major League debut that day, throwing 2 1/3 innings in relief of a struggling Kirk Rueter. More importantly to the pitcher was the single he stroked in his first at-bat.
"A flare to left," Fultz said, pointing toward the shortstop position. "I hung in there pretty well."
Randy Wolf takes on A.J. Burnett in the second game of the three-game series Tuesday. The left-hander had an effective first start, allowing three runs in six innings to the Nationals. Against Florida, he's 2-10 with a 5.74 ERA.
Vicente Padilla is scheduled to make his final Minor League start on Tuesday, this time for Triple A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre. If all goes well, Padilla
could be activated for an April 20 start against the Rockies. At that point, it is likely that Gavin Floyd will be sent to Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre.