Phillies Catch a Break, But So Do Rockies

Phillies Catch a Break, But So Do Rockies

Given a chance at a do-over, Phillies manager Charlie Manuel's change of heart about his starter for Game 3 was a wise decision.

Substituting rookie J.A. Happ for Pedro Martinez allows the Phillies to keep throwing left-handers at the Rockies, a discouraging prospect for the left-leaning Colorado offense.

The fact that Manuel could have used most of Saturday's arguments Friday, when he was coming to a different conclusion, was yet another insight into his distinctive logic, but it's also moot.

Had he chosen Happ to pitch Game 3 originally — and why he didn't remains a bit of a mystery, with both Happ and the Phillies training staff saying he was ready to go either day — Manuel still would have had to come up with a fourth starter in the series. Saturday's ski day means he no longer has to do that.

But then, neither does Rockies manager Jim Tracy, a fact largely obscured by the focus on Manuel's midcourse correction.

Ubaldo Jimenez and Aaron Cook can now pitch Games 4 and 5 on Monday and Tuesday on regular rest, just as the Phillies' Cliff Lee and Cole Hamels can. The Rocks are at least as happy as the Phils about this because, while Manuel had fourth-starter alternatives he was happy about, Tracy did not.

Manuel made it clear he was OK with trotting out Martinez or Joe Blanton to start a game. The Rockies' rotation was much thinner, having lost 16-game winner Jorge De La Rosa to a groin strain before the series began. That left them with Jason Marquis or Jose Contreras for Game 4.

With Contreras now established as an early man out of the bullpen, it probably would have been Marquis. Tracy would have said all the right things about the club's faith in their all-star, but Marquis' recent trajectory wasn't promising.

In effect, the postponement allows the Phillies to substitute Hamels, whom Colorado beat in Game 2, for Martinez. The Rockies get to substitute Cook for Marquis.

If the Rocks manage to split the two games in Colorado, they would return to Philly for a decisive fifth game looking at a Cook-Hamels rematch, the best of a set of difficult matchups.

To achieve a split in Colorado, the Rockies will have to beat either Happ or Lee, or string them out long enough to get into the Phillies' bullpen. That means either a dominating pitching performance of the Rockies' own or an offensive outburst against pitchers who have handled them in the past. And it leaves Tracy with some tough decisions.

Down the stretch of the regular season, he responded to left-handed pitching in the traditional way, subbing in a number of right-handed bats off his bench. Usually, this meant Garrett Atkins, switch-hitter Dexter Fowler and Ryan Spilborghs in place of Ian Stewart, Seth Smith and, sometimes, Brad Hawpe.

Most managers would do the same, playing the percentages. But Philadelphia's ability to turn Rockies' bench players into starters for the duration of the series might convince Tracy to stray from the percentages a bit.

For example, the Rocks' leading hitter in the series is left-handed Carlos Gonzalez, who has five hits in nine at-bats. Gonzalez hasn't been subject to Tracy's right-left platooning, mainly because the Rocks were 53-17 in the regular season when he started.

The Rocks' best lineup this year had Gonzalez and Smith in the top two spots. With yet another lefty, Todd Helton, hitting third, that's a tough way to go against a left-handed starter. But Smith is one of the team's best pure hitters, and he has yet to start a postseason game. As a postseason pinch hitter, this year and in 2007, he is 3-for-6.

While Fowler had a productive Game 2, driving in two runs with sacrifice flies, he does not have a hit in six official at-bats. Atkins is 1-for-6. Sometimes, as Happ observed Friday while defending the short-lived Martinez deployment, "the lefty-on-lefty thing may be overblown."

The Phillies are still the worst matchup in the playoffs for the Rockies, but we knew that going in. Percentages aside, if you had told the Rocks they could pitch Jimenez or Cook in all but one game of the series, they would have liked their chances.

Dave Krieger: 303-954-5297 or


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