This isn’t quite the race for the fifth rotation spot or the lefty bullpen job. Yet, lost in the shuffle is the Phillies new and, hopefully improved, bench. So long, Eric Bruntlett, Paul Bako, Miguel Cairo, and Matt Stairs. Welcome, Ross Gload, Juan Castro, and Brian Schneider.
It’s a different crew, an upgraded crew by major league standards, and it’s exactly what the Phillies needed. Now, it’s up to Charlie Manuel to utilize his utilities.
Scott Lauber of the Wilmington News Journal wrote a piece today about the bench, with the likelyhood that they’ll start finding splinters in their ass more than ever. If Manuel goes that route this season, he is clearly missing the bigger picture. It’s important to start the higher-priced, better players. But it’s also imperative they get a rest.
Over the last three season, here are the games played by the most “important” players:
- Ryan Howard: 466
- Chase Utley: 447
- Jimmy Rollins: 454
It certainly is a testament to their training regiments and offseason planning that this crew can stay healthy like they have. Still, to keep the continuity of the entire 25-man roster intact, the simple plan should be to give these guys a day off on the regular.
Baseball is clearly a different sport, but I harken back to the Boston Celtics of two seasons ago. Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce, and Ray Allen were all at the pinnacle of their games as one unit. They won the title, which is what you shoot for, of course, but in the process, the long season took its toll on the three of them. Garnett has failed to stay healthy since, Pierce is now dealing with injuries, and Allen is having one of his worst statistical seasons ever. They were overused for the greater good of the team. This Phillies team can learn from that.
Clearly, it’s impossible to completely bridge the two sports, but the main focus here is that guys will begin to break down if care it not taken. Ryan Howard has been lucky enough to miss just 20 games in three seasons. Chase Utley plays like a linebacker out a second base and Jimmy Rollins has plenty of mileage.
The cliches are apparent when it comes to the backups. “We need our reps”, “I can hit better if I just got the opportunity”, and “It’s tough when all the regulars are healthy” all apply here. I think it’s fairly crucial that Manuel get this crew some of those reps early on in the season when its cold and blustery. Check last season’s stats, for example. Phillies subs managed an anemic .196 average. However, they were given a total of 374 plate appearances in 162 games.
Was it a product of the makeup of the bench? Or was it that they were not given the opportunity? I’d say more of the former, since many cringed at the thought of Bako or Bruntlett pinch-hitting. That excuse is old now. Use the bench for what it’s worth. Gload led the league in pinch hits last season, while Greg Dobbs did the same a couple of years ago. Manuel must make sure Raul Ibanez is fresh, and that means Ben Francisco will see, or should see, plenty of time in left field.
Sitting Chase Utley or Ryan Howard for long stretches is not what anyone wants to see, but scheduled rest patterns for the superstars might just be what the doctor ordered.