After Cliff Lee exited the game against the Washington Nationals in the bottom of the 3rd inning on Thursday night, many feared the worst in that it might be a reoccurrence of the elbow injury that his kept him sidelined for some of the season already.
Sure enough, rumors quickly turned to assumptions, and then to more qualified judgements, as the news spread that Lee was likely done for the year. In an interview, Cliff stated he was “probably” out for the season, and his emotionless expression told the whole story.
It’s a shame in all honesty, having fought back from a stint on the DL in May after his left elbow strain. Despite beginning throwing again on June 10th, it was 41 days before he made his return on July 21st, but it lasted just 10 days up to the start against the Nats on the 31st.
Losing Cliff is a very big deal in my eyes. Sure, he has hardly being having a career season, but in an inconsistent rotation he has long been one of the most consistent performers, and when you consider what he has done for the Phillies over his 5 year spell it’s easy to see why he is a fan favourite.
Over his 118 starts for Philly, Lee has posted a 48-34 record (a .585 winning percentage) with a 2.94 ERA. Last season he was absolutely outstanding, going 14-8 with just a 2.87 ERA and a 1.010 WHIP, proving why he is the ace of the rotation despite the continuing impressive performances from Cole Hamels.
In 5 years playing for the Phils, Cliff has posted a strikeouts/9 of 8.8, a career high, as well as an impressive 8.5 hits/9 and a 6.56 strikeouts to walks ratio. His command has been stellar while he’s been playing in the City of Brotherly Love, and while not posting the 22-3 he achieved in Cleveland in 2008, Lee has still been one of the dependant pitchers of the rotation.
So, assuming the Cliff is done for the season, who exactly will replace him? One must presume that everyone in the rotation will be shifted up a place, meaning it is the 5th spot that will need filling.
Well, last time Lee was on the DL it was David Buchanan who was chosen to fill the void. The Phillies couldn’t go to the four man rotation in the short stretch Lee was out, as they had a spell of 20 games in as many days following the injury. Obviously the Phillies can’t and shouldn’t go to the four man rotation for the remainder of the season, so who will be the fifth starter?
My money is on David Buchanan to step up again, especially given the gem he just tossed for Lehigh Valley on the night Lee got injured. With his effort, pitching 7.1 innings of 1 run ball, Buchanan improved to 6-2 on the season at Triple-A, including a 3.95 ERA in 57 innings pitched.
Of course Buchanan has already pitched in 10 starts for the Phillies this year, posting a 5-5 record with a 4.40 ERA over 59.1 innings pitched. He seems he most suitable pitcher to fill the number 5 spot as he has innings under his belt in the Majors, and when drafted in earlier in the season he didn’t do a bad job.
Another man considered for the spot is prospect Jesse Biddle, currently on the inactive list but having recently made a start for the Gulf Coast League Phillies, giving up a homer over two innings pitched. It will likely be a while before he is actually properly considered for a call-up, especially given his struggles at Double-A Reading this season where he has gone 3-9 with an ERA over 5. In all honesty, Biddle isn’t the answer now, but this serves as a little progress tracker as well.
Prospects Adam Morgan and Shane Watson are due back this month, both having had shoulder surgery in the offseason. Many see Morgan as a more polished and consistent version of Biddle, but his development has obviously been hindered by the injury, and he would need time to settle back into a rhythm before being looked at for a call up. Watson on the other hand is making lots of noise at just 21 years old, and once he gets back into the swing of things he should really begin to mature and grow in ability. Both are potentially middle of the rotation guys, but if needed as a spot starter or a 5th man they could both do a job.
For now though the answer is clearly David Buchanan. Expect him to be given time until the end of the season to get more Majors innings under his belt. His confidence will only grow, and who knows, we could discover a real gem from a bad situation.