What was once an embarrassment of riches for the Phillies is now the source of greatest concern.
The biggest problem with relying on a basket of number fives instead of a legitimate three and four is that you will burn out your bullpen before the race really heats up. The best teams will have the talent to beat or at least chase your number five starters most nights, so it’s hard to make up ground when three out of five of your starters are overmatched. Maybe if the Phillies could score runs like they used to -– oh, wait. Never mind.
Among the pitchers in Spring Training, here’s how the final roster should shape up:
Cliff Lee and Cole Hamels must stay healthy for the Phillies to have any shot in 2014. Ordinarily, your number three starter should insure against your top two starters struggling or missing time; without one, the Phillies can’t afford Hamels or Lee to struggle or miss time. At Lee’s age, you begin to wonder how long he can dominate. Should his pitch counts be lightly reduced? Will the bullpen be up to it after all the innings cleaning up after the number fives?
In a perfect world, Kyle Kendrick and Roberto “Fausto” Hernandez would be fighting it out for the number five job with the loser to be a swingman in the bullpen. Alas, Hernandez has contract incentives for innings pitched that strongly imply he will be handed a starting job and Kendrick has no real competition among the remaining invitees. Barring injury, these guys are a lock to make the rotation.
Just Made the Cut
Pettibone was making a strong case to be a relied upon starter last season but unfortunately was shut down with soreness. According to the Phillies he had “inflammation in his right rotator cuff as well as some changes in his labrum”.
In 18 starts, Pettibone showed grit and moxie and didn’t look overwhelmed or overmatched. He averaged just over five and a half innings per start. I think he’d be a good number five on a deeper staff. Ryne Sandberg thinks so, too:
He showed some good things. He showed some growth. He showed composure out there. He pitched some quality games. He gave the team a chance to win. I had him in Lehigh Valley and it was the same stuff. I think it was a good experience for him. I think he showed he can do it. He just had a real good look about him out there.
“I feel good now,” Pettibone was quoted recently. “Going into a season, it’s the best I’ve felt in a while. I’m ready to go.”
I don’t believe for one second that MAG will be healthy and ready to go coming out of Spring Training. Almost no one has seen him pitch. If the Phillies are lucky he will round into playing shape by mid to late May. His presence certainly gives some hope to the situation, but even if he comes back strong, what kind of major league pitcher will he really be? More recently the front office has publicly dialed down expectations, although he is still listed as the number three starter on their depth chart at mlb.com. Having him around gives some reason for hope but I’ll believe it when I see it.
Jesse Biddle has a chance to rub shoulders with the vets and get a feel for big league Spring Training but there is no expectation of him winning a job. He needs more polish with his secondary pitches and fastball command. I wouldn’t be shocked if he made his debut in September, though.
Mario Hollands is a lefty with limited upside. He’s an organizational depth guy. He isn’t expected to make the team out of camp either, but he does have a chance to put himself on the map as a left-hander should the need arise later in the season. It’s a nice opportunity for him to open some eyes.
Shawn Camp, Jeff Manship and Sean O’Sullivan are purely depth guys: AAAA types who might come in handy but probably won’t see the major league roster unless several injuries occur.
The offseason isn’t over but the one move the Phillies most need to make is the one they haven’t made: fill the hole at #3 with a legitimate innings-eater featuring above average stuff.
We’re still waiting.