As we inch closer to Opening Day, Phillies fans can take heart that the Boys of Summer will soon take to the carefully manicured fields of the Carpenter Complex in Clearwater. Those fortunate enough to escape the frozen Delaware Valley to bask in the warm Florida sun, will have an abundant amount of competition to monitor.
The starting rotation is no exception. 2011 is a distant memory. Those were the days when Charlie Manuel could roll an All-Star to the mound four out of five days. Nowadays, there are battles for spots in the rotation. Two holdovers from the 2011 season still don red pinstripes and are locks atop the rotation. The rest of the group is a lot less certain.
Cliff Lee (LHP): What can be said about Lee that hasn’t been said before? At 35, he is still one of the very best pitchers in the game and showing no signs of slowing down. Lee is one of the finest control artists of his generation. His 7.3 WAR was second highest among pitchers in the majors. His strikeout-to-walk ratio was just a shade under seven. However, there is always the specter of a trade should the Phillies be out of contention by the All-Star break.
Cole Hamels (LHP): If Lee is the ace, then Hamels is right behind him. A slow start to the season led to a sub-.500 win-loss record and slightly inflated ERA in 2013. However, those numbers don’t tell the entire story. Hamels was one of the hottest pitchers in the second-half last season. His fastball/changeup combination is one of the best in the game. If he can avoid his notoriously bad start to a season, look for the Phillies to remain in contention for some time in 2014.
A.J. Burnett (RHP): The signing of Burnett was a huge coup for the Phillies. The veteran right-hander gives the Phillies a legitimate number three starter – something they were sorely lacking heading into the first week of camp. Burnett is coming off two solid seasons with the Pittsburgh Pirates. Last season, he set a career high with 9.8 strikeouts per nine innings. He still possesses a low-to-mid-90’s fastball along with a wipe-out slider. Burnett throws a heavy, worm-killing, sinker that will be a plus at Citizens Bank Park. His groundball percentage was 58% last season.
Making the Cut
Kyle Kendrick (RHP): Unless Gonzalez and Pettibone win jobs in the rotation, it will be more of the same – Kyle Kendrick, starting pitcher. Stop me if you’ve heard this song-and-dance before. Ideally, Kendrick would be the long man out of the bullpen who could make the occasional spot start. His problems are a lack of consistency and lack of a put-away pitch. The changeup is decent and fastball is pedestrian.
During the Amaro/Manuel/Dubee years, he always seemed to find his way into the rotation. The Michael Martinez of pitchers, if you will. If the results aren’t there, maybe this time will be different. He is a free agent at the end of the year. If he has a decent year, look for Amaro to dole out a Blanton-like contract next winter. I can picture the press conference now…
Roberto Hernandez (RHP): This is a classic roll-of-the-dice. The former Fausto Carmona had an unspectacular year with the Tampa Bay Rays in 2013. On the positive side, his strikeout-to-walk ratio was approximately 3:1. 56% of his outs were groundball outs – which would be a plus for a pitcher who pitches at Citizens Bank Park. Hernandez has decent stuff but is a contact pitcher. Therefore, it is imperative the defense plays well for him to achieve any kind of success.
This is a low-risk, high-reward contract. A curious transaction for a team that insists it will still compete for the postseason. If Hernandez pitches well, the contract will be a steal, if not, the money would have been better spent on new carpeting for the clubhouse.
Outside Looking In
Jonathan Pettibone (RHP): Pettibone may have the inside track over Gonzalez simply because of the 18 starts he made with the Phillies in 2013. His first order of business will be to prove that he is 100% healthy – having landed on the disabled list with a strained rotator cuff in July. He does not possess an overpowering arsenal, so limiting the number of walks will be key to his success. His WHIP was pushing 1.5 during his big league stint last season – that will need to come down. Allowing that many baserunners while possessing an average repertoire is a recipe for disaster.
That being said, Pettibone did not look overmatched during his maiden voyage in the big leagues. If he can refine his secondary pitches and induce more groundball outs than fly ball outs, he will be the fifth starter.
Miguel Gonzalez (RHP): All eyes – media, fans, coaches, and players – will be on Gonzalez when camp commences this month. The Phillies shelled out $12 million to a pitcher that only a small handful of people in the organization had ever seen pitch in person. The next question is: how much rust will he have to shake off? This is a pitcher who hasn’t pitched competitively since 2011. (He was suspended by the Cuban government for trying to defect in January 2012.)
Gonzalez has been in Clearwater since last fall – working out and working with coaches. Scouts have wondered about what type of game shape a pitcher who hasn’t pitched in two full seasons could be in. The next two months will go a long way in determining where he begins his professional career. It would not be surprising to see Gonzalez begin the season in Triple-A Lehigh Valley.
New pitching coach Bob McClure will try to whittle the repertoire down to a manageable level. Gonzalez, like most Cuban pitchers, will throw anything and everything at anytime. That includes the kitchen sink. Depending on the scouting report, Gonzalez throws anywhere from seven or eight different pitches. McClure will have him concentrate on three or four.
Ethan Martin (RHP): Martin is a sprinter, not a marathoner. Therein lies the problem. The Phillies, and Dodgers before them, tried fitting a square peg into a round hole by making him a starting pitcher. Martin’s lack of stamina and quality third pitch, frequently led him into trouble. The light was seen last September when the Phillies finally placed him in the bullpen.
Martin has a mid-90’s fastball, that touches 98 mph, and a devastating, drop-off-the-table 12-to-6 curveball that has late-inning star written all over it. He is better served unleashing his power in one-inning stints rather than laboring through four or five. He might make a spot start – or two, but that should be it.
Tags: Philadelphia Phillies