PHILADELPHIA — Charlie Manuel doesn't tire easily — unless you're talking about all the trips he made to the mound during the eighth inning of Friday's game, when he needed four pitchers to get three outs. That's something he wants to avoid next year.
The Phillies manager used six relievers in just 21/3 innings against the Nationals on Friday. The situation was partly dictated by pitching matchups, but it happened mostly because the bullpen has been so inconsistent that it's forced Manuel to fuss over nearly every decision.
"You can definitely get burnt that way," Manuel said.
It worked out Friday. The relievers didn't allow a run.
But Manuel was holding his breath with every move he made. It's the same feeling he's had much of the season in far too many aspects of the game.
His offense has lacked power, the defense hasn't been what it once was and his bullpen has been downright questionable much of the year.
"When you think about where we wanted to go and what we wanted to do, and you look around and we've got some problems," Manuel said.
The problems aren't going to fix themselves in the last five and half weeks of the season, but Manuel is doing everything in his power to get a head start on 2013.
He's tinkering with the batting order. He's throwing relievers into spots he normally wouldn't to gauge how they handle pressure situations (it happened with rookies Jake Diekman and Phillippe Aumont). And he's putting players at positions they've never played before just to see what they're capable of (Nate Schierholtz has started at center field despite having never played there, not even in high school, and Michael Martinez started in right field Saturday for the first time in a big league game).
Getting those opportunities is perhaps the one upside to not being in a pennant race.
"Scouts say the hardest times to evaluate [players] are in spring training and in September," Phils assistant GM Scott Proefrock told The Morning Call. "There's all sorts of different variables. In spring training, you don't know whether they are facing a guy who is competing for a roster spot, Triple-A guys or young guys, and in September, teams are out of it, teams are in it. There's a whole variety of different factors, as opposed to the midst of the regular season."
Before you sulk about what could have been this season, let's examine — since the Phillies already are — five pressing issues they need to address for 2013.
1. A more powerful lineup. Corner outfield spots and third base have historically been where that power comes from, but the Phillies are breaking the mold this year. It's unlikely the Phillies will pick up Placido Polanco's 2013 option, so they will have the chance to put a power bat there. If they don't do that, they need a right fielder or a left fielder who is going to hit 25 home runs and drive in 85-100 runs, and I don't see anyone currently on the 25-man roster capable of doing that.
"We definitely could use some power," Manuel said. "At the same time, I definitely think if you put a guy in here with good size that's a good hitter, that's got, say, 200 pounds, and is a good, high-average hitter, he's going to hit for some power in this yard. I wish I was 40 again. I'd play here. You can say, 'We've got pitching. We've got pitching.' But you still have to score runs."
2. What in the world do you do with Freddy Galvis? He might be the best defensive player on this team, but there's not a spot at second base or shortstop for him. You'd hate to stunt his growth by putting him back at Triple-A, but having him sit the bench most of the time does him no good either. If the Phillies get that power outfield bat, why not work Galvis at third base? He made the switch to second base from shortstop with ease. Surely he could play third.
3. The bullpen. Hardly anything is definite out in the bullpen except for closer Jonathan Papelbon. Mike Stutes should be back from shoulder surgery, but he's missed most of this year, so what you'll get from him is unclear. The club has a number of guys here now to choose from, but is the quality really there with B.J. Rosenberg, Phillippe Aumont, Antonio Bastardo, Josh Lindblom and Raul Valdes? One thing is for sure, though: Bastardo isn't going anywhere.
"We are going to get Bastardo where we want him," Manuel said. "We know how good he can be. It's still there. It's just a matter of us getting it out of him, and him getting it out of himself. He will."
4. Two important bench spots: Utilityman and catcher. Kevin Frandsen is making a case to be the team's utilityman next year. He can play second, shortstop and third, and he's proven that he can do it, and do it well, for an extended period of time. Brian Schneider's contract is up after this season, and it's hard to believe the Phillies will re-sign him. The club can likely sign Erik Kratz for about the same cost, and at 32, the Phils will get a get a guy who is four years younger.
"Without a doubt. I can say that. Yes, they have [put themselves in the running to make the team next year]," Manuel said of Frandsen and Kratz. "And they're going to continue to get to play and that counts too."
5. Being smarter ball players. Manuel summed it up better than I ever could: "When I look this year, some of the biggest things I've seen are the mental mistakes that we've made or the part about baseball that evidently we show that we don't know. And there comes a time in the game where that really plays a huge part. We used to not have that [problem] as much. If people don't like that, I'm sorry, but that's what I see. And it gets back to how good a player are you. You definitely have to use your mind a little bit to think, and you've got to know how to play and you've got to know how to take a lead. You've got to know how to catch balls, the proper way to get under balls, you've got to know how to go to the fence properly, you've got to know how to hit the cutoff guy, you've got to know where to throw the ball. You've got to be able to read where the ball's hit to know if you can go extra bases."