Manuel's Decisions Helping Rockies

Manuel's Decisions Helping Rockies

Judging by the first two games, the only guy who can beat the Phillies in the National League division series is Charlie Manuel.

And he just might.

Although the series is tied 1-1, the Phillies have been the better team, outhitting the Rockies .343 to .248, the biggest discrepancy in any of the four playoff series so far. The Phils' earned run average in the first two games is 3.00. The Rocks' is 4.76.

Philadelphia's advantage has been based on the Rockies' well-documented vulnerability to left-handed pitching. The Phillies started southpaws Cliff Lee and Cole Hamels in the first two games. With young J.A. Happ waiting in the wings, they seemed sure to make it three in a row.

Instead, Manuel used not only Happ but presumed Game 4 starter Joe Blanton in relief of Hamels in Game 2 with the Phillies trailing. That left him little choice but to name veteran Pedro Martinez, who turns 38 later this month, to start Game 3.

Using likely starters in relief so early in the series seemed the sort of desperate move a series underdog might make. Instead, the favored Phillies now allow the Rocks to use their best left-leaning lineup in Game 3 against Martinez, a once-great pitcher who gave up six runs on nine hits in 4 1/3 innings the last time he pitched at Coors Field, in June 2008.

Meanwhile, Happ recovers from a bruise on his left leg sustained when Seth Smith hit him with a line drive in Game 2. Manuel now hopes to start Happ in Game 4, presuming he doesn't feel compelled to call on him in relief of Martinez in Game 3.

Manuel manages by feel. Rational explanations are not his forte. Still, I asked him why he didn't start his three lefties in a row, as everyone expected.

"First of all, I think that when Happ got hit on the knee (Thursday), that had something to do with it," he said. "He's fine. He can pitch. I look at him as going Sunday. But we haven't made a decision on it yet."

That begged the question, so I asked him why he used Happ in relief in Game 2 rather than saving him for Game 3.

"Because I wanted to get the left-handed hitters out," he said. "It felt like it was time to use him. Once we got him up, like where we knew we was at in the game, we were trying to hold them. I felt like we still had a chance to win that game."

OK, but Manuel also had a couple of lefties in his bullpen he did not intend to start in the series. In fact, after Happ was forced from the game by Smith's shot, Manuel went to Scott Eyre, and later to young Antonio Bastardo. Of the three, Happ was the only one to give up a hit.

The obvious conclusion is that Manuel has little or no faith in his bullpen. And that gives the Rockies an opening they shouldn't have, a chance to take the series lead against a pitcher who has thrown all of four innings since injuring himself swinging a bat on Sept. 19.

"I would have loved to have pitched a little bit in between, but that's not the case right now," Martinez said.

After the Phillies worked out Friday, I asked Happ if their pitching rotation for the series was as much a mystery inside the clubhouse as outside.

"I suppose so, yeah," he said. "I think guys understand the situation. Maybe we've got to see what happens and they're going to make decisions kind of as we go here. That's fine.

"The lefty-on-lefty thing may be overblown," he added. "We've got five capable guys, so I'm looking forward to seeing what Pedro's got tomorrow, for sure."

So are the Rocks, for sure. Jim Tracy will be able to put his best lineup on the field for the first time in the series, presumably including Smith and Ian Stewart, neither of whom started either game in Philadelphia.

Manuel could still get the last laugh, particularly if Martinez can turn back the clock and give a vintage performance. But it's worth noting that in four Coors Field starts dating to 1995, he has a record of 1-2 with a 4.97 ERA.

Still, if the Phils can pull out Game 3, they will be up 2-1 in the series with Happ presumably ready to pitch the potential clincher in Game 4.

But if the Rockies do to Martinez what they did to right-handed pitching for much of the season, Manuel's decision to risk Happ in relief in Game 2 will look foolhardy. In fact, given the result — he pitched to one batter, didn't get him out and was injured — it looks a little foolhardy no matter what happens from here.

The Rocks got a break in the series from a manager, and it wasn't even theirs. But it's still up to them to take advantage of it.

Dave Krieger: 303-954-5297 or


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