PHILADELPHIA — John Felske has dedicated the Philadelphia Phillies' spring training camp to defense.
Felske took over as manager of the Phillies after last season, when they placed fourth in the National League East, and he says the team's 161 errors--second-worst in the league--was a major reason for that disappointing finish.
"When you play poor defense it has an effect on everything else, especially your pitching," Felske said. "When a pitcher has runners on first and second and gets that ground ball for a double play and we mess it up, or a fly ball and we don't get to it, psychologically that takes its effect."
The pitchers, he said, are left wondering, "'Gee, what do I have to do to get out of this,' or 'That should have been an easy double play and I should be winning, not losing."'
Felske, who took over when Paul Owens returned to the front office, said that type of thinking begins to destroy a ballclub or take away its aggressiveness.
"Then only bad things happen, and I think last year that's exactly what happened," he said. The Phillies lost their last nine games and their last 12 out of 14 in 1984 for their worst showing since 1979.
The Phillies' catching situation, a problem area a year ago, depends in large part on how Bo Diaz recovers from a double knee operation, Felske said. Diaz played in just 27 games last year and was on the disabled list three times.
"If Diaz is healthy . . . it gives us a chance to do some different things," he said. "Right now we're not talking about trading Diaz but we'd be in a position to do so. If he isn't healthy, then we wouldn't be (able to trade). We'd have to look deeper in the organization and come up with a catcher."
Felske mentioned Darren Daulton, who played in Portland last year, as a possibility, but said the club is not sure of Daulton's arm. "We really want him to play a month or two in Triple A this year," Felske said.
Felske said he planned to use Len Matuszek at first base against right-hand pitching and John Wockenfuss against left-handers.
At shortstop, Felske wants to find out whether Ivan DeJesus, who hit .257 with 35 RBI and no home runs and made 29 errors, had a bad year last season or has started to slip at age 32.
"My feelings are in spring training we're going to give Ivan a chance to show us that last year was just an off year," Felske said. "If he does that I believe he'll wind up being our everyday shortstop. If he shows that last year was just not an off year, maybe gone backwards a little bit, then we have (rookie) Steve Jeltz.
"Right now we know he (Jeltz) can do it defensively. There are a lot of question marks on his offense."
Mike Schmidt is solid at third base, after a year in which he tied for the league lead in home runs despite being hampered by wrist and hamstring injuries.
Felske said the competition for the right field job was between Glenn Wilson, acquired last spring in a deal that sent Willie Hernandez to the Detroit Tigers, and rookie John Russell.
"If one of them wins it, great; if both of them should not have a good spring, then we can always take Von Hayes (center) and move him to right field and play Garry Maddox in center," Felske said.
Jeff Stone is the left fielder.
Felske feels he has solid starting pitching, even though Steve Carlton is 40 and Jerry Koosman is 42.
"I'm not concerned with Carlton and Koosman's age," he said. "They're outstanding athletes."
He said the question marks on the pitching staff are probably in the bullpen, especially after Al Holland's sub-par finish last season. Holland lost his last five games; with earned run averages of 6.05 in August and 16.20 in September.
"But in my mind anyone who has had 54 saves in two years, I've got to believe only in the positive side and just say that Al, the last weeks for a number of reasons, didn't pitch up to par," Felske said.
"In clutch situations Al is going to get the ball. He's going to have to prove to me that he can't pitch in those situations and I find it hard to believe that he can't."
Felske said the addition of Pat Zachry, obtained in a preseason trade that sent Al Oliver to the Los Angeles Dodgers, gives him someone who can come on in the sixth inning and pitch through the ninth. He plans to use Larry Anderson as a one-inning stopper.