Issues

Preservation Key As Camp Nears

Health is always at maximum importance during the thawing months of February and March. The Phillies don’t have a laundry list of injured players, but surely, they have some key issues.

Primary is Chase Utley, whose hip might take him out past Opening Day. Frankly, I can’t see him playing in early April, and there’s no reason to rush him. I’d rather have my best player joining in at 100 percent on May 1 instead of maybe 60 percent on April 3 starting some “feeling out” phase. One thing the Phillies have proved is April isn’t as important as August in the marathon of baseball.

Then there’s Pedro Feliz, whose back might keep him out longer than April 1. I’m a little more concerned with this injury, since Feliz fills a very specific niche that no other rostered player does well. (Whereas if Utley is out, you can make do with an average defensive second baseman and the big sluggers picking up his production.) No one plays the hot corner like Feliz, and his knack for clutch knocks might be lost early. Still, it’s not a heavy concern, as he should be back totally by May.

Those are the two main injuries. The more underlying issue that could plague the Phillies is overuse. Cole Hamels was bumped from about 190 innings in 2007 to 270 innings in 2008 (counting postseason). Injury-free Brett Myers saw a huge addition of innings in 2008. The bullpen was relatively healthy in 2008, and Chad Durbin and Ryan Madson saw a lot of time. Offensively, you can never be too careful with Jayson Werth and Shane Victorino.

Of course, these are problems that plague a lot of teams, and you just have to deal with the facts. But preventive measures should be sought early. It’s possible Hamels and Myers will be on shorter leashes in April and May, with Charlie Manuel relying heavily on new addition Chan Ho Park and Scott Eyre to bridge the games to Brad Lidge. And it’s possible we see more Geoff Jenkins and Eric Bruntlett earlier, so Werth and Victorino are preserved for the dog days.

The Utley and Feliz injuries show us that you can only go so far on broken parts. Feliz had to take some time off in 2008. Utley, of course, played the whole slate on a broken hip. He’s superhuman. But not everyone is. In 2009 – and especially starting when camp breaks — the Phillies should be open to any option.

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