First, there were his words. Then came his offseason moves. This weekend in Clearwater will bring Ruben Amaro's challenge. From the minute the Phillies lost in the last NLDS until the end of their 2012 season, there will be a challenge to Charlie Manuel to manage.
He's had the title since 2005, but circumstances never really gave him the opportunity to manufacture success. There was a period of reconstruction, followed by the greatest bubble of in-its-prime talent in franchise history, followed by last season when Manuel had too few movable personnel pieces to do what managers must when teams struggle.
And popular as it is to practice denial, the Phillies have struggled for the past two years, their 102 wins in 2011 notwithstanding. Seventy-nine times last season, they scored three or fewer runs; they scored one run or fewer 27 times. In 2010, they scored a maximum of three runs 78 times. In 2010, they finished their season with eight scoreless innings; in 2011, they did that an inning better.
They can't hit.
Reasons? Age, injury, more age, more injury. And one more thing: The Phillies were so convinced that their nine-figure payroll and broom-closet ballpark would guarantee them runs into eternity, they felt they had a Vince Young-level everyday eight, and that would require Manuel to do what he does best: Treat the players with respect and leave the lineup card un-crumpled.
To Manuel, that is the only way to manage, anyway. He believes in winning today, not tomorrow, and religiously endeavors to ram his best eight players into the game. Strong starting pitching has helped religiously endeavors to ram his best eight players into the game. Strong starting pitching has helped him finish in first place every year since 2007 and to mix in a world championship. But within seconds of the 2011 failure, Amaro mentioned that the players had to approach offense differently. Soon after, the general manager began enough of a makeover of his bench and bullpen that Manuel will have no excuses to go days without his lineup scoring. Because if the players he starts one day don't hit, then those he should start the next day should.
Is Jimmy Rollins popping up too often in the leadoff spot? Try Shane Victorino. Then try Juan Pierre.
Is Chase Utley sagging physically in August? Try Placido Polanco at second, for Ty Wigginton will be available at third. Has Ryan Howard struck out 11 times in the past week? Consider Jim Thome at first for half of a four-game series.
John Mayberry will be the first baseman until Howard returns from an Achilles' injury. After that? Manuel did what he had to in recent years. But in an improved National League East, managing will mean more than running a bully lineup out there six times a week and X-ing out calendar dates until the postseason.
Amaro has made it clear: The Phillies should - they must - create more runs, not just wait for them. In a season where the manager can't afford to miss any signs, that's the first one Charlie Manuel should have noticed.