The Phils and Cole Hamels lost a tight one last night to the Braves as Tim Hudson broke out of his two month pitching slump to shut down the Fightins’. Hudson scattered six hits over seven innings and fanned eight Phillies, while helping his cause by laying down a perfect suicide squeeze bunt in the fifth. Hamels pitched well himself, allowing one run off six hits while walking just one and striking out six. The rest of the Phillies though looked thoroughly uninterested in winning. The pitching duel ended as soon as Geoff Geary and Aaron Fultz came in and surrendered two key insurance runs. Jimmy Rollins struck out three times and Abraham Nunez continued his impotence at the plate by striking out twice, including one looking with a runner in scoring position to end the second. Ryan Howard was thrown out unwisely attempting to stretch a double into his second triple of the season. In the field, Shane Victorino had a tough time in right as he had two fly balls bounce off his glove. To be fair, they were both difficult catches and he was not charged with an error for either. David Dellucci recorded the Phillies only RBI on the night with a deep sacrifice fly that came within inches of a grand slam. With the two remaining runners still on base, Chris Coste capped off his 0-4 night with a very unclutch strikeout. I was real disappointed with that at bat, not only because it was the Phillies best chance to rally, but because Coste swung at ball out of the strike zone after he impressively laid off the same pitch twice before.
All season we have been patiently waiting for personnel turnover at third base and catcher, and our prayers have been answered – Nunez is now the everyday third baseman and Coste catches about two or three times a week. It’s clear however that these are not long term solutions. Nunez, while excellent defensively, is simply a mess at the plate and offers no advantage over Bell in that category. In fact, with a -2.5 VORP, he’s actually worse offensively than most anyone else. Coste meanwhile has been a pleasant surprise ever since Spring Training. He’s batting .341 with four homers and 19 RBIs, which means his average is .100 higher than Lieberthal while recording similar number in 50 less at bats. Yet the rookie Coste, a minor league lifer, is only one year younger than Lieberthal so it is suspect as to how long he can continue behind the plate.
If you recall, Coste did come up as a backup infielder which would lead one to ask, why not have him play third? Well, Nunez is the better fielder, but also he has the unwavering support of Charlie Manuel. "I haven’t seen Coste play a lot of third," Manuel said. "But we just traded David Bell. This is supposed to be a chance to let Nunez play. If you say you’re going to let somebody play, you’re going to play this guy. It’s important to win games, but if you want to give a guy a chance, you have to give him a chance." Oh Charlie, have you not been paying attention during Scott Palmer’s ‘how to talk to the media’ lessons? You never ever start a sentence, "It’s important to win games, but…" I mean what possible phase can you attach to the end of that sentence to justify something better than winning games? "It’s important to win games, but I had to rescue a drowning puppy." Nope. "It’s important to win games, but I had to diffuse the Middle East crisis." Maybe, but I don’t forsee that coming out of Manuel’s mouth. I’m really tired of questioning Charlie Manuel but sometimes it’s just too easy.