Next 10 days may decide if Phillies buy or sell
Utley in final year of deal, but Amaro says trading him would be 'really tough'
PHILADELPHIA -- Ruben Amaro Jr. spoke in short, declarative sentences Friday afternoon at Citizens Bank Park.
Why waste words with time running short?
"These next 10 days are big," the Phillies general manager said.
The Phillies opened a 10-game homestand Friday with a three-game series against the Braves. The Phillies began the series 41-45, 8 1/2 games behind the first-place Braves in the National League East and 8 1/2 games behind the Reds for the second NL Wild Card.
A winning record these next 10 games going into the All-Star break is must, although Amaro declined to call this "make or break." But if the club struggles at home, Amaro did say the makeup of the team could change shortly thereafter.
"I hope we're adding to this club than subtracting," he said. "That's the goal, but as I always say and I've been saying the same thing, the players will dictate it."
So a 5-5 mark does not cut it?
"Probably, but we'll have to see," he said. "But that depends how we get to 5-5, you know?"
Players like Cliff Lee, Jonathan Papelbon, Chase Utley, Michael Young, Delmon Young and Carlos Ruiz will be discussed ad nauseam in the coming weeks. Teams looking to add talent for the stretch run certainly could use one or more of those players.
"Some guys are a lot less touchable than others," Amaro said. "But we'll keep our eyes open, our ears open. We've had a lot of discussions in the last three or four days. As you can imagine, we have a lot of interest in some pretty good players we have on our club. And that will continue."
Amaro said those discussions have picked up, with the Phillies initiating some of those calls.
A name on everybody's mind is Utley, who is in the final year of his contract. Utley is playing well, with his .521 slugging percentage his highest mark since 2008. But Utley is the heart and soul of the clubhouse, so losing him could cause a dramatic shift in the clubhouse atmosphere.
It would be tough to trade him, even if he could bring a top prospect or two.
"Really tough," Amaro said. "Really tough. Again, I see him as a Phillie for life. But I'm not the most stubborn human being on the planet."
Amaro is accepting phone calls, emails and text messages about his players. These next 10 games could decide if he pulls the trigger.
Despite issues with lefties, Howard faces one Friday
PHILADELPHIA -- Phillies first baseman Ryan Howard, who has had a dismal time against left-handed pitchers this season, was in the lineup Friday night against Braves southpaw Paul Maholm.
Howard was hitting .266 this season with a .777 OPS entering Friday, but he had a .169 average and .503 OPS against lefties. His OPS against lefties ranked 194th out of 202 qualifying players. His .596 OPS against left-handers from 2011-13 ranked 222nd out of 233 players. In the third inning of the series opener, Howard hit a deep solo shot off Maholm.
He was held out of the starting lineup four times on the recent 10-game trip -- three times against a left-handed starter. Howard has also dealt with knee trouble this season, which manager Charlie Manuel said is the reason he sits the first baseman.
The 33-year-old slugger is in the second season of a five-year, $125 million contract, and earlier in the week, general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. said in a radio interview "if Ryan Howard is now relegated to being a platoon player, he's a very expensive platoon player."
"He needs to have more success against left-handers," Amaro said Friday. "I think he will, but he hasn't. I think he needs to."
Howard had 10 homers and 42 RBIs entering the series opener. He had 75 hits, 62 of which have came off of right-handed pitchers, and Howard had an .878 OPS against right-handers.
The Braves flip-flopped Paul Maholm and Tim Hudson's starts, but Manuel said Howard would have been in the lineup Saturday if Maholm was pitching. Manuel said he thinks Howard will be in the lineup during every game of the 10-game homestand that takes the Phils into the All-Star break.
"I don't look at Ryan Howard as a platoon player yet," Manuel said. "I think that he can still hit and he can still can going. I think his knee has been bothering him and things like that. If we're going to rest him against somebody, it's going to be lefties."
Possible All-Star berth not on Brown's mind
PHILADELPHIA -- In the midst of a breakout season, there has been a lot of speculation about the possibility of Phillies left fielder Domonic Brown being an All-Star.
Brown's credentials have been discussed by fans, the media and Phillies manager Charlie Manuel. However, there's one person who said he has not pondered the chance: Brown.
"I haven't even thought about it," Brown said. "I don't know. Is that weird?"
He entered Friday second in the National League in home runs with 22. Brown was also hitting .279, and his 60 RBIs are the most of any Phillie.
Brown, 24, was 15th among National League outfielders in the latest fan voting numbers for the Midsummer Classic, so he would need to rely on getting to the game in some other fashion. Manuel -- who managed the NL All-Star team in 2009 and '10 -- said there are benefits to young players getting experience on a big stage.
"Any time that a young player gets around guys who have been All-Stars two, three, four, five, six or seven times, superstar players, I think he can learn things from them, especially if he picks out the right ones," Manuel said.
Brown was also asked about potentially participating in the Home Run Derby at Citi Field. But just like he said he does not think about his chances of being an All-Star, Brown said he has not contemplated competing in the Derby.
D. Young rediscovers hitting stroke on road trip
PHILADELPHIA -- When the Phillies kicked off a 10-game road trip 11 days ago, Delmon Young was hitting .220. As the team returned home Friday, the right fielder owned a .273 average.
Young hit .486 (17-for-37) with one home run and nine RBIs in his last nine games. Young had just 31 hits in his first 44 games with the Phillies, but manager Charlie Manuel was patient with him, and it paid off on the trip.
"I knew that if he found his swing and started hitting the ball consistently, he could put up some numbers," Manuel said. "Delmon Young, if he can become the player we think he can, the second half of the season, he'll have some chances to knock in some runs."
The highlight of Young's recent streak came in a 16-1 win against the Dodgers last Friday. Young collected three hits and drove in a career-high six runs. He's had three or more hits in three of his last nine games.
Todd Zolecki is a reporter for MLB.com. Stephen Pianovich is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.