CLEARWATER, Fla. -- Matt Stairs arrived at Bright House Field last month as one of two new Phillies broadcasters.
He quickly ran into Chase Utley, one of the five remaining members of the 2008 World Series championship roster. Stairs and Jamie Moyer, who joins Stairs in the broadcast booth this season, played with Utley on that championship team.
They share a common bond as champions in a city that has seen its baseball team parade down Broad Street just twice.
"Stairsy, just remember …" Utley said.
"I know, I played the game," Stairs replied. "I know how hard it is."
Stairs and Moyer chuckled at the story on Wednesday. It is a common complaint from players about former players turned color analysts: Sure, now that you're in the booth everything is so easy, isn't it? Stairs and Moyer said they have not forgotten, but they also know they have been hired to analyze the game for Phillies fans. That includes acknowledging when something happens on the field that shouldn't have happened. That includes honest assessments of the team's play.
"Being ex-players we know this game is hard," Stairs said. "We're not going to bash somebody for not getting a bunt down or making an error."
But they will talk about what went wrong and why.
"It's not being critical," Moyer said. "It's taking it one step further and being educational."
They shared their opinions on the Phillies' chances in 2014 following a mostly disappointing spring. The Phillies entered Wednesday's Grapefruit League game against the Tigers at 9-15-3, although there had been signs of life recently. They had hit just .211 (127-for-603) through their first 19 games, which was the worst mark in baseball, but had hit .295 (81-for-275) in their previous nine.
"The Phillies have guys coming off some subpar years, some injuries," Moyer said. "I think from what I've seen from the beginning of Spring Training now toward the end of Spring Training, I've seen a big turnaround. Obviously, early in camp, defense suffered a little bit. They've filled those gaps. They've filled those voids. They've played very good defense. I think their pitching has really opened some eyes. Obviously, the big question is the hitting.
"Early on, they didn't hit really well, left a lot of guys in scoring position. Here in the last couple days, the Phillies hit the ball a lot better. This is a long season. A season is not won or lost in April. The direction can be created in April, but it's a long season. ... I think right now they need time. Every team is still trying to create who they are as they get to the end of Spring Training and into the beginning of the season. Once we get into April and into May, we'll have a really good idea of where this club could potentially go."
There has been plenty of focus on Ryan Howard, who has been limited to 151 games the past two seasons because of left leg injuries. He has hit a combined .244 with 25 home runs, 99 RBIs and a .752 on-base-plus-slugging percentage in that span.
The Phillies believe their offense can be productive again if Howard is healthy and productive.
That is a lot of weight on the big man's shoulders.
Howard entered Wednesday hitting .254 (15-for-59) with three home runs, seven RBIs, five walks, 22 strikeouts and a .753 OPS.
"He came into Spring Training with probably 300 at-bats less than anybody else, missing the second half of last year," Stairs said. "I said from Day 1 he's going to need about 100-150 at-bats before he feels comfortable. The nice thing about Spring Training is, as soon as they go to Texas for Opening Day, everything you work on, you forget. A guy like Chase Utley, who might not be hitting for great power, he might be working on things during the game, tracking balls, trying to hit the ball to left field. As soon as he gets into a regular season game, he's going to get right back to where he's going to be aggressive, getting the ball out in front. So there are a lot of things people work on in Spring Training for older guys. Younger guys have to make the team, so their numbers are very important to make the team.
"Ryan Howard, he's starting to use his lower half again. He got into a bad habit last year. He was injured, he didn't use his lower half when he hit. Now all of a sudden it's mind over matter and muscle memory is saying, OK, I have to get back to that power spot. And he is."
Todd Zolecki is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.Less