01/31/2003 7:45 pm ET
Phillies Spring Training preview
Bowa: We have a good team that can win
By Ken Mandel / MLB.com
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Jack Russell Memorial Stadium
PHILADELPHIA -- Jim Thome, Pat Burrell, Bobby Abreu.
Or maybe Abreu, Burrell, Thome.
Oh, the problems manager Larry Bowa has as he heads to Clearwater, Fla. -- what to do with the middle of the order?
"I'll fool around with it a little bit during exhibition games," Bowa said. "Right now, I'm planning on going Thome, Burrell, Abreu. That could change. [Jimmy] Rollins and [Placido] Polanco will be at the top and [David] Bell, [Mike Lieberthal] Lieby and [Marlon] Byrd at the bottom."
Bowa is sure about the centerpiece in the right-handed Burrell. The 26-year-old budding superstar, in addition to breaking up the two lefties, clubbed 37 homers and drove in 117 runs last year. Starting the season as the seventh-hitter, he gradually rose to fourth and smacked 23 homers from that spot.
Thome contributed his 52 home runs as Cleveland's cleanup hitter, while Abreu hit his 20 batting third for Philadelphia. The trio combined for 109 homers -- more than any other National League threesome last season, though Houston's new triple-threat (Lance Berkman, Jeff Bagwell and Jeff Kent) hit 110.
That's on paper, of course, something Bowa knows not to trust. He knows his team must perform from April through September to reach October, something the team should do if things go according to plan. Bowa likes his chances.
"Obviously the bar has been raised a little and any manager has to relish being able to say, 'we have a good team and can [win],' as opposed to thinking that everything's got to go perfect and hoping other teams mess up a little.'"
On the field, Bowa knows three-quarters of his starting infield is different -- with Rollins the only holdover. Thome and Bell take over at first and third, while Polanco shifts to his best position at second. The outfield has a rookie in Byrd, who plays between Abreu and Burrell and takes over for Doug Glanville.
The rotation has a new ace in Kevin Millwood, an 18-game winner in 2002 whose expected salary through arbitration made him too costly for the Braves. Following him are the Phillies' co-aces from last season -- left-hander Randy Wolf and right-hander Vicente Padilla -- and two question marks, Brandon Duckworth and Brett Myers.
Bowa said Duckworth and Padilla have the inside track to those spots, but Joe Roa, Hector Mercado and Eric Junge could loom if they fail.
While obtaining Millwood was huge, the Phillies made another key acquisition when they hired Joe Kerrigan as pitching coach. Kerrigan has been successful at both his previous stops and has identified Duckworth and Myers as his projects.
He brings with him a comprehensive pitching program that includes hours of research on hitter tendencies and is aimed at coming up with a structured game plan. It may appear daunting, but once embraced can be highly useful.
Duckworth can't wait.
"Last season wasn't good for me, and (Kerrigan) noticed some things I was doing," said Duckworth. "I struggled from the stretch, so we're going to work on that. And having a plan like using my fastball and making the right pitch at the right time, instead of having too many pitches working at once. I tried to do way too much last season."
The bench is set with Tyler Houston, Tomas Perez, Todd Pratt, Ricky Ledee and Jason Michaels. The bullpen, headed by closer Jose Mesa, is looking for support from a cast that includes Terry Adams, Turk Wendell, Dan Plesac, Rheal Cormier, Roa, Carlos Silva and Hector Mercado.
Bowa said the back end of that bullpen is something that will work itself out. Not too bad if that's his biggest concern.
Some of the pitchers arrived in camp as early as Feb. 1 -- nearly two weeks before the required date -- eager to get started.
The list of early arrivals included Wolf, who, after playing in Japan this offseason, originally thought he wouldn't want to pick up a baseball until he could rest. That changed in a hurry.
"It lasted until Bell, Thome and Millwood came," Wolf said. "I want to start playing again -- like we did in 2001 where every game mattered in September and October and we gave ourselves a chance to do something special.
"I think we have the players to do it. We're not considered overachievers anymore. We're playing like we should play and I'm excited about that. I know I'm going to say this over and over again, but [the front office] did their job. Now it's our turn to do ours."
Ken Mandel is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.