MILWAUKEE -- The Philadelphia Phillies, a .206-hitting team in their previous 16 games (13 losses), practiced their batting Monday afternoon at Miller Park. The man who constructed a flawed team watched from the visiting dugout. Ruben Amaro Jr. ascended the steps, eyed a pack of reporters, and decided this was the moment.
He sought to motivate his roster before a 3-2 win over the Milwaukee Brewers with threats. He promised changes -- not just in the form of trades -- and questioned the status of entrenched but unproductive veterans. The Phillies responded with three quick runs against an abhorrent pitcher; the bleeding ceased for a few hours.
The bigger picture requires undetected solutions. Amaro said his front office is "active already" in trade talks.
"It's disappointing, particularly the offense," Amaro said. "What more can you say other than we're not swinging the bats very well? I didn't anticipate our guys being this poor. Because they are. They are this poor.
"We think that they're better. But they haven't shown it. So at some point we're going to have to make some changes. Some guys, once they are ready to play, may be factors for us."
It was biting criticism, but a rare dose of truth from the Phillies brass. The words will not save a tailspinning season; Amaro hopes a few of the lineup mainstays muster improvement. The Phillies possess few players to push the inept ones, a fact Amaro lamented. He will soon add Grady Sizemore, Darin Ruf and Freddy Galvis to the equation.
Another asset is 21-year-old prospect Maikel Franco, whose bat displayed recent life at triple A. He is hitting just .223 with a .624 OPS this season but has 11 hits (five for extra bases) in his last 24 at bats following a two-day mental break.
"Hey, listen, I'm looking for people who can swing the bat," Amaro said. "Because we're not doing it here. If he gets to the point where he starts swinging the bat consistently, he's a guy who could be in play, too."
But the Phillies want more time to evaluate third baseman Cody Asche, and he plays the same position as Franco. Can they both fit?
"Yeah," Amaro said, "because (Franco) could play first base, too."
That was a shot aimed at Ryan Howard, who entered Monday with a .230 batting average, .309 on-base percentage and .393 slugging percentage. He slugged .545 from 2004-13. His current numbers put him among the least productive first basemen in baseball.
Howard, who batted with his hands noticeably lower Monday, smacked a run-scoring single to right in the third inning. That boosted the Phillies' lead to 3-0, their first three-run lead since June 24. It was Howard's second RBI in 18 games.
Chase Utley blasted a first-inning, two-run homer -- his first since June 26. Marco Estrada, who may challenge Bert Blyleven's 50 homer record in 1986, allowed his 27th dinger. Utley reached base three times and scored twice.
Three runs, which resembled a veritable bounty for these Phillies, is not enough on most nights. The Phillies, before Monday, had lost 27 of their last 28 games in which they scored three runs or fewer.
Cole Hamels, Ken Giles and Jonathan Papelbon ensured that three runs manufactured a win. Giles' night was most impressive; the rookie recorded four outs and survived the gauntlet that is Milwaukee's lineup heart in the eighth inning.
Jonathan Lucroy, Carlos Gomez and Aramis Ramirez -- three all-stars -- made outs on Giles' slider. Opponents are 0 for 16 with 11 strikeouts against the slider. It is a pitch that temporarily pauses the Phillies' wallowing.
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