Tuesday, September 29, 2009
Phils meet; Pedro to start Wednesday
By Jayson Stark
PHILADELPHIA -- With his team struggling to wrap up a return trip to the postseason, Philadelphia Phillies manager Charlie Manuel called a meeting before Tuesday's game with the Astros to remind his club how they arrived at this point in the first place.
"It was short, just a positive meeting," Manuel said. "I wanted everything about it to be positive. You've got to remind them they're not in first place because they're not any good. We're good. I've always said this year we've got the best team in the division. I know that. I feel that way, 100 percent I feel that way."
Yet, thanks largely to a leaky bullpen, the Phillies had lost five of seven heading into Tuesday's game. Their lead in the NL East had shrunk to four games over Atlanta with six left on the schedule.
"Look where we're sitting right now," Manuel said. "All we've got to do is win three games, win three out of six games. That's all we've got to do."
They'll get some help for that goal with Pedro Martinez returning from injury to start on Wednesday against the Astros, ESPN's John Barr reported on Tuesday. He has been out since Sept. 19 with neck stiffness.
Cliff Lee will have his start pushed back one day to Thursday, putting him in line for Game 1 of the NLDS.
Martinez threw what he characterized as a "normal" bullpen session and that "everything went smooth" on Tuesday.
"I feel good," Martinez said.
Manuel tried in inspire the entire team to feel better about their situation.
"One thing I mentioned was, I compared them to Mohammad," he said. "When he did it, what happened? He had to go to the mountain. He had to take it. Well, that's what we've got to do; we've got to take it. You don't look. You don't look ahead. You don't ever really want to think you've got something until you got it."
That Manuel chose to have the talk before the game with Houston, which beat ace Cole Hamels in an 8-2 Phillies' loss on Monday, was a considerable step because Manuel isn't typically a big fan of meetings. But he hasn't been happy with the way his team has approached the job at hand over the past week and he wanted to re-focus the club on the concept they embraced so well last October -- worry about winning each game as it comes along and not try to look ahead to clinching.
"It was a good time for it," shortstop Jimmy Rollins said. "I think a lot of players actually enjoyed it, hearing Chuck talk. To be honest, some players wish he would talk more, but that's not Chuck's style."
Manuel expressed worries about his team not having the same hunger this year. When Rollins was asked about his manager's concerns, he said he'd seen the same thing at times.
"I think sometimes when you haven't won anything you fight for it more, but when you've won -- sometimes you expect things to happen rather than fight for them," Rollins said. "People aren't just going to let us win, just because we did it last year."
Besides Martinez, the Phillies have other key members battling injury. After making his first relief appearance since July 23 on Monday, J.C. Romero told ESPN's Barr that he feels "a little tender." He went on the disabled list in late July with a strained left forearm.
Romero said he'd like to have at least three more appearances before the postseason.
Also, catcher Carlos Ruiz's wrist was almost feeling good enough for a start on Tuesday, but he was not in the lineup. Backup catcher Paul Bako was behind the plate again.
Senior writer Jayson Stark covers MLB for ESPN.com.