The Big Piece notwithstanding, the lack of situational hitting, and absence of a true bench threat, is a topic worth discussing.
Until Ryan Madson coughed it up in the ninth (a subject we'll revisit later this morning) Chase Utley's first-inning homer would have been enough to reward Cole Hamels for his best start in weeks. Nevertheless, there's no reason why the Phillies needed to be in a position to win one by the skin of their teeth, leaving the ninth inning to chance knowing the stormy situation at the back of the bullpen.
Three at bats stick out, two by Pedro Feliz and one by Matt Stairs. After a Jayson Werth lead-off double, followed by a Ben Francisco base on balls, the Phils wasted a golden opportunity to put a big inning together in the second when Feliz tried pulling a ball and grounded into a 6-4-3 double play. Feliz has fallen back into some bad habits by trying to pull everything lately and is having his worst month of the season, hitting .207/.239/.368 in August. His second poor at bat came in the ninth, again with runners in scoring position, when he chased three sliders out of the zone. Feliz has been a pretty reliable clutch hitter late in games; that's why his approach in this at bat was puzzling.
Two batters later, after pinch hitter Raul Ibanez was intentionally walked to load the bases, Stairs, who last had a hit July 11 and is hitting .202, rolled over Joel Hanrahan's slider to end the inning. This last example serves as the perfect metaphor for the bench; those pinch-hit bombs early in the season seem like ages ago for Stairs.
Hamels thinks it clicked: After a stone-faced eight innings, Hamels told reporters that he felt like it finally clicked, dating back to his final two innings at Citi Field and continuing in what he considered his best in-between bullpen he's thrown all season. Hamels threw a composed 123 pitches, striking out seven with better velocity than he's had all season.
Howard, Werth: The Big Piece is in one of those stretches where he carries the team, homering nine times and knocking in 25 over his last 13 games. While he's been taking a better approach at the plate, tracking the ball and recognizing balls and strikes better, how much credit can be given to his lineup protection for keeping opposing pitchers honest? Werth has had his best month, hitting .300/.371/.638. As much as opposing managers would like to play it safe with the Big Piece, they can't.
Myers: In Reading, Brett Myers pitched two scoreless innings, struck out five and walked a batter out of the R-Phils' bullpen last night in a win over Erie. Myers has nine strikeouts in four innings of rehab.