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Charlie Manuel Must Continue to Trust New Faces as Phillies' Season Progresses

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Since becoming the Phillies manager in 2005, Charlie Manuel has run his team with an obvious deference to veteran players. One needn’t look much further than Manuel’s in-game decisions and the team’s personnel moves as proof that the manager would rather go to war with players that have proven themselves over the long term.
 
The approach seems to be working, as the Phillies are once again one of the best teams in baseball, while featuring the league’s oldest roster (with an average age of 31.2 years).
 
But in a season full of lofty goals, it may be more important than ever for Manuel to begin having faith in some new faces and younger players.
 
Gone from the roster are mainstays like Jayson Werth and Chad Durbin, and gone to the disabled list are veterans such as Chase Utley  and Brad Lidge. And while Phillies fans have always been willing to get behind new faces, a big part of the team’s success this season could hinge on whether or not Manuel is ready to trust some of those less experienced players.
 
Let’s begin in the bullpen, which is off to a hot start, but which also features a couple of key spots that will need to be solidified as the season progresses. The departure of Durbin meant that the Phillies would need to replace about 65 innings of dependable relief work from a right-hander. It was obvious at times last year that Charlie Manuel was not ready to hand the ball to any other right-handed option in the 6th or 7th innings.
 
Those other options last year were Danys Baez and David Herndon, whose limited performances earned them about as much time on the field as the Taser-targeted fan. But, the Phillies have committed big money to Baez and an entire season of a valuable roster spot to Herndon, and the two relievers are now key elements of the their bullpen. Thus far, they have been trusted for 13 innings of work with an ERA just above 4.00. Neither Baez nor Herndon provide the security blanket feeling that Durbin offered for three straight years, but they must be given consistent work if they are expected to perform when it matters.
 
Another young player who will need to be used with some regularity is Antonio Bastardo. You may remember the Phillies’ lack of trust in their left-handed relief corps last season. J.C. Romero was a disaster, and Bastardo couldn’t seem to earn Manuel’s trust. In fact, despite showing some real promise, Bastardo logged only 6.1 innings of work from the All-Star Break through the end of the 2010 season.

Bastardo’s fastball and slider are dynamic, if not always extremely accurate, and the young lefty has already appeared in five of the team’s first fourteen games this season. That sort of consistent Antonio Bastardo photo: Lenny Ignelzi (AP)work could turn Bastardo into the team’s best left-handed bullpen option when the all-important fall of 2011 arrives.

To realize just how important Bastardo could be later in the season, Phillie fans need only remember how frustrating Giants lefty Javier Lopez was for the Phillies left-handed hitters in last year’s NLCS.
 
Moving from the pitcher’s mound to the plate, there will again be new faces that need to be given opportunities to play if they are to be counted on when the games become most intense.

The Phillies lineup has been decidedly lefthanded for quite a while now, and Manuel will once again need a reliable right-handed bat off the bench when opponents counter with their best lefthanded pitchers. For 2011, that could mean that John Mayberry Jr. will be called upon for some crucial at-bats later in the season.
 
With that being said, Mayberry will need to see more regular action than Domonic Brown did late last season. Brown’s effectiveness down the stretch was really limited by his lack of at-bats in the season’s final two months. Once again, a young player who had showed promise did not find his way into Manuel’s lineups with much regularity.

While it’s hard to argue with Charlie’s results, most would agree that some of the great moments of the past three seasons have come from role players who were given opportunities (read: Matt Stairs, Geoff Jenkins, Ross Gload), and that Mayberry has enough pop in his bat to provide some of those types of contributions.
 
The beginning of this season has shown that Charlie Manuel is recognizing the importance of trusting some new and young faces. After all, he has given Jayson Werth’s critical spot in the lineup to Ben Francisco and Chase Utley’s job is again being filled by Wilson Valdez. Perhaps that’s one of the necessities of managing a team in which well over 70 % of the $172 million payroll is devoted to only ten players. In filling out the remainder of the roster, the front office and manager had better be able to trust some younger, inexpensive guys to fill some important roles.
 
Will that sort of trust in young players take more time to develop? Sure. But, Charlie Manuel and the Phillies should have the luxury of being patient this season. Their investment in the best starting rotation in recent MLB history has bought them a lot of wins and lot of opportunities to play less experienced players in meaningful situations.
 
As this season of high hopes progresses, the contributions of the Phillies big-money stars will be unmistakable. However, the team’s postseason hopes could ultimately hinge on whether or not some of the team’s less famous names have earned the trust of their manager and the playing time that will have them ready for October baseball. 

Matt Babiarz was born and raised in the Philadelphia area.  He graduated from the University of Alabama, but remained a very close observer of the Philadelphia sports scene.  He recently began covering the Phillies for Philly2Philly.com.   You can also read his work at Bleacherreport.com within the Philadelphia Phillies section. 

Matt can be contacted at mattbabz@comcast.net  

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Bastardo photo: Lenny Ignelzi (AP)

 

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