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Phillies in real trouble with loss of Halladay

This time, the gig might really be up for the Phillies. Ryan Howard and Chase Utley don't have a single at-bat and Howard's Achilles is likely going to keep him out at least until July 1. Cliff Lee has no wins in nine starts despite a 2.92 ERA. Jimmy Rollins can barely get his average over .250. Jim Thome's back limited him to 20 at-bats until he returned Friday night. No one has replaced Raul Ibanez. Then came what could be a crippling blow: Roy Halladay is having shoulder trouble and could be down for weeks.

This news was really no shocker to veteran Philly watchers. All the way back to spring training, there had been whispers Halladay's velocity was down. They grew as he was going 1-3, 6.11 in May.

Phillies pitching coach Rich Dubee acknowledged he's had his own suspicions about Halladay since spring training but the team pressed onward until Halladay had to come out after just two innings of a recent game against the Cardinals.

"Guys always have pitched with something," Dubee told Philadelphia reporters. "You don't feel 100 percent very often when you go out there. There are lingering things. I thought that this was a minor lingering thing. We talked, and he thought he could pitch through it. It never got better, and we finally had to stop and see what's going on."

The Phillies entered the weekend 0-23 when trailing after seven innings. They're 12-19 at home -- the worst record in the National League. This from a team that has won 50-plus at Citizens Bank Park the last two years and no fewer than 45 home games since 2006. They've had 235 straight sellouts but there have been plenty of no-shows of late and the ones who are there have been pretty surly.

The loss of Halladay is an even bigger blow to a pitching staff that entered the weekend 12th in team ERA at 3.85 after finishing first last year at 3.02 (the lowest ERA for any team in the majors since 1989). After Thursday's 8-3 loss to the Dodgers, their sixth straight on a 1-6 homestand, manager Charlie Manuel was asked if his team has lost its edge. He was brutally honest.

"We don't scare nobody," Manuel said. "We used to have a swagger. We used to be kind of cocky in a real good way. Teams used to definitely fear us. I definitely don't see that fear no more. I'm sorry. I'm answering the question very honestly. I don't see where we scare nobody. Nobody backs down from us. Matter of fact, they come right at us. They take it right to us."

The Phillies were the underdog in 2007 when they stunned the Mets in the season's final 17 games to steal the National League East. They did it again the next season, quickly becoming the power in the league by winning a World Series and making it again in '09 before losing to the Yankees. They fell short the last two years (losing to the Giants and Cardinals) when most people thought they were the best team.

Now injuries appear to have the window closing on an aging group. Still, it's not like the Phillies have been buried. They entered Saturday last in the National League but still only six games behind the Nationals.

It wouldn't take much to put them back in the driver's seat. But the upstart Nationals look like they're for real, the Marlins and Braves have been surging and the Mets overachieving. The Phillies need their veterans back. They certainly need a healthy Halladay. Not having him is just about their worst case scenario.

"Halladay's thrown a lot of pitches, man," said Manuel. "He's 35, and he's thrown a lot of bullets over his career. Sooner or later, that's going to catch up with him. I think he's at the point where if he just steps back a little bit, you'll still see that dominant pitcher."

We'll see.

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Boras rips rules

There was an undercurrent of discontent about new rules around last week's First-Year Player Draft and, of course, super agent Scott Boras made some of the biggest noise.

"There was all forms of artificial behavior in the draft," Boras told USA Today. "The purpose of the draft is that it's supposed to create parity in the game. You want teams with the greatest needs to get the best available talent. That has not been achieved in this draft. It's created a mockery."

In a nutshell, the new rules placed a limit how much teams could pay their top 10 picks. There are severe penalties, up to loss of picks, for teams that go over. Small-market teams like the Pirates who spend heavily on the draft rather than free agency can no longer do that at will, and large-market teams who might pay more than normal for lower-round players have their hands tied.

As a result, teams like the Blue Jays stockpiled college seniors at lower cost because their only choice is turning pro (high school players, of course, can decline to sign and go to school). That allowed more money to remain in teams' pool for their higher-profile selections. There were 65 seniors taken in the first 10 rounds this year -- after just 31 combined in the last three years.

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Bucs stay in Indy

Cross one more off the list for this fall's Triple-A affiliation shuffle as the Pirates and Indianapolis have agreed to a two-year extension through 2014. You'll read and hear a lot more about this as the season winds down but the bottom line to all of it is very simple: The Bisons will either keep the Mets for two more years or kick them out and sign with the Blue Jays. Those are simply the only two options.

One thing the Mets have done very well the last couple years is give minor-league free agents a chance to get on the 40-man roster and get a big-league callup when they've deserved it. That's something players don't take lightly when looking to sign with an organization and you can thus attract better minor-league free agents.

Valentino Pascucci, Vinny Rottino, Omar Quintanilla and Jeremy Hefner have all benefited from that in the last couple of years.

"That's a good thing the Mets have done," Bisons manager Wally Backman said. "When guys go out there and compete and get the job done at the level they're getting it done it, they'll get an opportunity. It's good to see guys do well when they go up there. they deserve the opportunity to go. When those guys get hurt [in the big leagues], those are the right guys they took."

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Around the horn

*The Nationals are in the midst of 32 consecutive games against teams from either the NL East or AL East and entered Saturday 10-8 in the first 18. The final 15 are all in interleague play -- three at Boston, three at Toronto, three apiece at home against the Yankees and Rays and three at Baltimore.

*The fast grass at the new Marlins Park bears watching as the summer heats up in Miami. The issue is the grounds crew is still trying to gauge how long the roof can stay open in the day to provide sunlight and let the grass grow without burning it to a crisp. Burned grass will become hard and cause the ball to scoot through the outfield.

*Former Bisons slugger Mike Hessman might be heading back to town for the Triple-A All-Star Game and Home Run Derby. Hessman hit three homers Monday for Oklahoma in a win over Iowa and entered the weekend batting .288 with 15 homers (second in the Pacific Coast League) and 32 RBIs. But since May 1, he's at .352. Hessman, who spent last year in Japan, signed as a free agent with Houston in January.

*Couple alumni notes from Canisius College: Shortstop Sean Jamieson of Class A Burlington (Iowa) in the Oakland chain has been named the starting shortstop for the West Division at the Midwest League All-Star Game June 19. He entered the weekend batting .250 with three homers and 16 RBIs.

Second baseman Kevin Mahoney is batting .285 in his first regular tour of duty in Double-A, with Trenton of the Yankees' chain. Mahoney went on the disabled list Wednesday with groin soreness.

e-mail: mharrington@buffnews.com