Manuel promises improved offense in 2012

Manuel promises improved offense in 2012

PHILADELPHIA -- Charlie Manuel found himself in an unenviable situation.

Had the Phillies played like the best team in baseball against the St. Louis Cardinals in the National League Division Series, which they were for six months and 162 games, they would have been in Milwaukee on Wednesday, preparing to play the Brewers in Game 3 of the NL Championship Series. Instead, he was answering questions about his offense during an offseason news conference at Citizens Bank Park.

"I take a lot of pride in hitters," Manuel said. "I get upset sometimes when we don't hit as good as I want us to hit or think we should hit. Let me tell you something. I don't care whether you like it or not, I know how good a hitting coach I am. Whether you want to believe that or whatever, really. We will get better."

The Phillies averaged 4.80 runs per game from July 1 through the end of the regular season, which was the best mark in the National League. They outscored the Cardinals in the best-of-five series, 21-19. Cliff Lee and Roy Oswalt -- two of the rotation's four aces -- allowed 10 of those 19 runs, but more people are focusing on the offense because it hit just .226 in the series, just .161 after the second inning in Game 2 and went scoreless in 31 of their final 34 innings, including a 1-0 loss in Game 5.

The Phillies struggled similarly in the 2010 NLCS against the San Francisco Giants.

"We would like to grind out more at-bats, learn how to work more counts, plate discipline," Manuel said. "All those things [Phillies general manager Ruben Amaro Jr.] talks about, I talked about. I teach that. It's a matter of keep reminding guys. We definitely will have meetings and things like that in Spring Training, and carry it out during the season. We have to get better hitting."

Two at-bats in the series captured the frustration of fans: First, Shane Victorino swinging at a first-pitch sinker from Cardinals ace Chris Carpenter in the first inning in Game 2 at Citizens Bank Park. Carpenter had not retired a batter to that point, allowing a leadoff single to Jimmy Rollins, walking Chase Utley and Hunter Pence, and allowing an infield single to Ryan Howard when Victorino swung at the first pitch and flied out to center field for the first out. Second, Skip Schumaker working a 10-pitch at-bat against Roy Halladay in the second inning in Game 5. He worked a double to score Rafael Furcal for the game's only run.

The Cardinals had numerous at-bats like that, while the Phillies allowed St. Louis pitchers to throw six or seven pitches in an entire inning.

That's not grinding out at-bats like Manuel wants.

"I go back to pitchers and scouting reports," Manuel said. "You make adjustments, the pitchers make adjustments and the hitters have to make adjustments. If you don't like to or are afraid to go deep in the count or to hit with two strikes on you, you are going to get anxious, you'll be aggressive and chase bad balls. At times, we'll take a fastball right down the middle, some guy will throw a breaking ball down and we'll roll over it and swing at it and miss. That's not good hitting. We talk about that all the time.

"That's how I talk to our hitters and so does [hitting coach Greg Gross]. At the same time, pitching in baseball is getting better. They know who likes to swing, who won't walk, who doesn't take pitches, who will go out of the strike zone and take bad pitches."

Other than talking to their hitters more regularly, Amaro and Manuel did not offer specifics on how they can get them to change. It is fair to wonder how much a hitter truly can alter his approach, if that has been the way he has hit his entire career.

Can Manuel and Gross teach their hitters patience?

Will they listen?

"Do the players listen to me? Without a doubt," Manuel said. "I know they listen to me. Does every one of them? There might be somebody who didn't get to play or who's upset or something, he'll tell you. The only way to find out is if you ask them and I'm sure they will tell you. I think they listen to me."

Manuel believes he can reach his hitters to prevent these types of shortcomings in the future. That is why he isn't shying away from future expectations. Somebody suggested the Phillies should be World Series favorites again in 2012. He's not scared of that.

"That's the way I like it," he said. "We play the everyday game. You can put expectations on all you want to, it's the expectations that they put on themselves and how we look at things. Right now when we go to Spring Training, what we will be talking about is getting to the World Series and win. That's been our goal ever since we won after 2008."

Todd Zolecki is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.