Philadelphia Phillies Fan: Who’s on First? Maybe Not Ryan Howard?

I was enjoying the unusually warm weather here on the East Coast by taking my power walk, usually guaranteed to relax my body and mind. The sun was shining, the birds were chirping and I was just about to reach the top of the steepest hill on my route when I heard something on the sports talk radio show blaring in my headphones that stopped me dead in my tracks.

Jayson Stark, ESPN's baseball insider, and one of my most trusted sources for all things Phillies, was sharing details of his recent interview with Philadelphia Phillies shortstop Jimmy Rollins. Of course, all Phillies fans are well aware by now of the infection complicating slugger Ryan Howard's recovery from the left Achilles surgery he had last October. It has also become increasingly apparent that Phillies second baseman Chase Utley's playing time (he has yet to play in a single preseason game as of this writing) may be severely hampered by the patellar tendinitis in his knees that caused him to miss the first seven weeks of the 2011 season.

But while Phillies management has been minimizing Howard's "setback," Rollins from his front row Spring Training seat had some unsettling observations to share with Stark about his two longtime teammates, comments that are sure to strike fear in the heart of any Phillies fan.

Asked by Stark when he expects to see his good friend Ryan Howard back in the line-up, Rollins responded: "If you ask me, with this infection, I don't know if he's going to play this year, because after all the work that he's done, now he's got to hit the reset button."

Say it ain't so, Jimmy! Now I have to hit the reset button. Did Jimmy Rollins actually say that he doesn't expect Ryan Howard to play ALL SEASON???

"You can come back from this injury," Rollins continued. "There's no doubt."

Whew. Now that's more like it.

"Over the long term [he'll]… be fine. But that's where 'long term' is meaning, like. a year and a half." A year and a half without the Phillies leading run producer? A year and a half without the man so vital to the Phillies line-up that his manger Charlie Manuel nicknamed him, "the Big Piece?"

Surely, 'Dr'. Rollins would have better news to report on his double-play partner for the past 7 1/2 years. But as always, Jimmy cut to the 'Chase:' "It's [Chase Utley's knee problem] really the same thing as last year… trying to plant and turn a double play is going to really give him problems. And going to his right and trying to throw back to first…he's probably not going to try to make that play anymore."

So let's see if I've got this right. No Ryan Howard at first, a severely limited Chase Utley at second, a 36-year-old Placido Polanco, also coming back from injury, at third and Rollins, no spring chicken himself at 33, at short. Is this an infield that can be expected to win a sixth straight NL East title?

Yes, the Phillies do have some aces in the hole, or on the mound, in Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee and Cole Hamels, arguably three of the best pitchers in the game, but someone still has to turn the double-plays behind them to win those close pitcher's duels and at least a couple of runs are going to have to find their way across the plate every night.

For the record, both manager Charlie Manuel and GM Ruben Amaro, Jr. paint a brighter picture. Although they will not give a firm date for Howard's return they both say that he will certainly be back this year. As for Utley, Amaro said, "I fully expect Chase to be our second baseman Opening Day."

And even Rollins is quick to add that this team of veterans still knows how to win and will find a way to get it done this year as well. The Phillies are "the team that just does it. It might not look pretty. It might not look fantastic But…that's how I want it to be…No fireworks, No extra stuff. Just do it."

Now, maybe this is all just 'Jimmy being Jimmy' but boy do I miss the good old days when J-Roll kept his predictions to how many games the Phillies would win.

Susan Cohen-Dickler is a lifelong Phillies fan, writes a Phillies blog, Girls Best Phriend, and published an eBook about the Phillies on Amazon.com

Sources: espn.com, philadelphia phillies.mlb.com

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Updated Thursday, Mar 15, 2012