Phils struggle in opener with Mets

Phils struggle in opener with Mets

PHILADELPHIA -- Charlie Manuel is a creature of habit, but he changed course late Friday night.

"What do you think?" he said to open his postgame news conference at Citizens Bank Park.

Manuel has opened virtually every postgame news conference in five-plus seasons with the Phillies by reciting the line score from his starting pitcher, then by going down the box score and highlighting any offensive stars. He might add a comment at the end about if his club played good or bad or looking ahead to the next day or whatever, but he probably figured what was the point in all that Friday?

So Manuel asked everybody what they thought about his team after an ugly 9-1 loss to the New York Mets at Citizens Bank Park, which handed the Phillies their eighth loss in the past 12 games to finish April 12-10.

Not good, Charlie.

Not good at all.

"We haven't played good for quite awhile," Manuel said.

The offense has been bad, but it probably is the least of the team's concerns. The Phillies have hit just .214 with an anemic .595 on-base-plus-slugging percentage in the last 12 games, in which they have averaged just 3.2 runs. They have hit just .188 with runners in scoring position, and have hit just one home run with a runner on base since April 14.

The Phillies should hit in time.

But the pitching is another story. Right-hander Kyle Kendrick allowed five hits, four runs, one walk and three homers in five innings to fall to 0-1 with a 7.61 ERA. Philadelphia starters have just seven quality starts this season, which ranked second-to-last in baseball behind only the Pittsburgh Pirates, who have four.

Roy Halladay, who pitches Saturday afternoon against the Mets, has four of the Phillies' quality starts.

They could use another one Saturday.

Phillies starters are 9-6 with a 4.17 ERA this season, but starters not named Halladay have a combined 5.19 ERA. Philadelphia relievers are 3-4 with a 4.70 ERA and five saves in nine opportunities.

"I made one bad pitch," Kendrick said, referring to a 3-2 slider to Rod Barajas, who hit a solo homer in the fifth. "Other than that, I don't know. I'll keep fighting. I made some good pitches."

But the Phillies have a decision to make next week when they are expected to activate right-hander Joe Blanton from the disabled list.

Who will be their fifth starter? Blanton will join Halladay, Cole Hamels and Jamie Moyer. Does Kendrick remain or do the Phillies try Nelson Figueroa until left-hander J.A. Happ returns from the DL? Assistant general manager Scott Proefrock said Happ could miss the same amount of time as Blanton, which would be about a month. Happ has not pitched since April 15, so he could be in line for a mid-May return.

"I'll talk to [pitching coach Rich] Dubee awhile and I'll see what he thinks, and we'll see what we can do," Manuel said.

Kendrick has started five times. He has allowed four or more runs and pitched five or fewer innings in four of those starts. He allowed a two-run home run to David Wright and a solo home run to Jeff Francoeur in the second inning to give the Mets a 3-0 lead. He retired eight of the next nine batters he faced after Francoeur's homer before he allowed the homer to Barajas in the fifth.

"Obviously, I want to pitch," Kendrick said. "I feel great right now. I'm not having the results. It's frustrating, but I'm going to keep fighting and keep going after it."

But if an anemic offense and a struggling pitching staff are not enough, Manuel has seen a lack of focus and hustle on the field.

Manuel has two rules: Be on time and hustle.

"I'm always concerned when we don't hustle," Manuel said. "I'm always concerned when we start playing real sloppy."

Ryan Howard was thrown out at second base when he didn't hustle to second Tuesday in a loss to San Francisco. Shane Victorino did not run to first base after Barajas didn't catch a third strike in the fifth inning on Friday. To make matters worse, Barajas bobbled the ball after he tried to pick it up.

"I was part of that situation tonight," Victorino said. "You'll never see me do it again. I'm not going to make any excuses. I'm part of that situation that Charlie is talking about. I know he didn't personally call out anybody, but I'm speaking about it, and I'm going to answer the question. It is unfortunate. I would say we're missing that one thing. I don't know what it is, but I don't think this team ever will be that team [that doesn't hustle]."

But the Phils are right now, and that is a concern.

Of course, hustle can improve and they can play cleaner baseball. And practically everybody believes this team will hit.

But will it pitch well enough to win?

Manuel said he has not thought about talking with his team yet, but that could change if he doesn't see improvement.

"People come and watch us play because of who we are and how we play," Manuel said. "When we get away from things from what made us, I get very concerned about that."

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