Back in the day, when Charlie Manuel's hitters were struggling, he sometimes would take matters — and a bat — into his own hands.
"I'd be mad, and I'd say to them, 'This is how you hit', and I'd take a few swings," Manuel said.
One of those times — when he was managing the Minnesota Twins' Triple-A affiliate in Portland in 1987 — he stepped in during pregame batting practice, and hit five of the first six balls out of the park.
"I used to do it in Cleveland, too, when I was the hitting coach," Manuel said. "Every once in a while, I'd jump in on a round with the guys. I was a good BP hitter."
Manuel is 67 now, and says it probably has been 10 years since he last took a few hacks. So don't expect him to see him in the cage with Jimmy Rollins, Placido Polanco or Ryan Howard any time soon.
And besides, Manuel has a better option as the Phillies' lineup battles through an extended down period. He just pulls out his pen and writes any of these four names into the No. 9 spot on his lineup card: Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee, Roy Oswalt, Cole Hamels.
It's working so well that through Thursday, Philadelphia's 16-8 record was one-half game behind the Colorado Rockies' for the best record in the National League. That despite the Phillies' offense sitting seventh in the NL in runs scored, seventh in batting average, 10th in on-base percentage, 10th in slugging percentage, 10th in OPS, 11th in home runs and 11th in stolen bases.
After Arizona's Ian Kennedy threw a complete-game shutout at them on Monday, the Phillies had scored only 40 runs in a 14-game stretch — yet won nine times.
They have scored three runs or less 12 times already this season — and won six of those games.
When they closed out the three-game series against the Diamondbacks with an 8-4 win on Wednesday behind Hamels, it marked the first time the Phillies had scored more than four runs in a game in 15 games.
Rollins drilled a home run into the left-field seats in that game for his first of the season — and the first out of the No. 3 spot in the Phillies' order. There still has yet to be a home run from the No. 5 spot.
So it's no wonder that when a postgame questioner wondered if the eight-run outburst was the start of something, Manuel joked: "I'll tell you in a couple days. Leave me your e-mail (address)."
The disabled list offers one of the biggest reasons for the offensive struggles. The good news is that Chase Utley (right knee patella tendinitis/bone inflammation) was on the Phillies' road trip, took ground balls daily, and looks pretty close to being ready for a rehab assignment. The sticking point is running, so no target date for his return to action has been set.
Meanwhile, rookie outfielder Domonic Brown (fractured hamate bone in his right hand) is scheduled to begin playing in extended spring games next week.
But even when Utley and Brown return, the Phillies' lineup still will be without Jayson Werth's power-and-speed combination. And if you balance Raul Ibanez's struggles and Polanco's red-hot month, the individual numbers aren't that much different from 2010. In other words, this pretty much is what you're going to get from this lineup.
Fortunately, as Rollins admitted, "we don't have to score a bunch."
No, they don't. The defense has taken it up a notch from last season, currently second in fielding percentage and errors behind only Milwaukee. And there is one quality start after another from Halladay, Lee, Oswalt and Hamels.
Combined, they are 11-5 with a 3.23 earned-run average, 26 walks and 133 strikeouts the first five times through the rotation.
All four have allowed fewer hits than innings pitched. All but Oswalt have more strikeouts than innings pitched. All but Lee (2-2) are 3-1. All but Oswalt are averaging 6 1/3 innings or more per start — a key stat when you realize that the Phillies already are on their third closer with Brad Lidge and Jose Contreras on the disabled list.
As Hamels said, "These are some of the best pitchers in the game. You have to go out there and pick up your end of the bargain."
The first interruption for the big four could come next week, as Oswalt left the club following a sub-par start on Tuesday night, and returned to Mississippi in the wake of tornado damage in his hometown of Weir. Just a year ago, Oswalt's parents' house was destroyed by a tornado, and five people have been killed in the area in the current spate of activity. Whether he makes it back in time for his next scheduled start — Tuesday against Washington — is unknown.
Still, whether it's an injured closer or two, Oswalt's temporary absence, or catcher Carlos Ruiz leaving Wednesday's game because of lower back pain, there is an undeniable feeling in the Phillies clubhouse that the winning will continue.
"We know how to win," Hamels said. "Whether it's hitting home runs, or throwing shutouts, or bunting guys over and winning by one or two runs. We know how to play the game."
Added Manuel: "I'd like to see our offense do more. But as long as you've got enough (runs), you've got enough."