Cole Hamels had a season last year that was flat out dominant at the end but you would not know it just looking at his wins and losses. He could have easily won at least 5 more games had the Phillies actually scored runs for him. At one point Hamels had to toss a bunch of shutout innings to actually win his games, the Phillies offense was that bad. The former World Series MVP struck out 211 batters in 208 innings while holding opponents to a .237 batting average with a very respectable 1.18 WHIP. Being the 4th starter (in name only) Hamels luck should improve some as he won’t be tangling with the Zack Grienkes and Tim Linecums as much as he will be pitching more against guys like the Aaron Cooks, Charlie Mortons, and Aaron Harangs of the league. Face it, it is a lot easier to give up 2 or 3 runs and beat a Kenshin Kawakami than it is a Tim Hudson.
That brings us to the overlooked man in the rotation. Joe Blanton. Blanton’s season last year started off bad. An injury during spring training that meant he could not open the season with the team then he got off to a slow start from being on the shelf for so long. Blanton also drew the ire of fans because many viewed his $8 million contract as a reason Cliff Lee was sent out of town. One thing many of the fans have missed is, down the stretch the last two years Joe Blanton has been as sound as any of the pitchers on the team. His overall numbers would be laughed at as compared to pitchers from the 70s and 80s, but those days are long gone and the Phillies do win most of the games Blanton starts in. Some slide rule guys might scoff at Blanton even being mentioned with the four aces ahead of him, but honestly, he deserves to be mentioned with them. Unless he is traded, he is the 5th starter and a pretty darn good one, considering what other teams run out there as their 5’s.
So far the things I have seen being talked about the Phillies rotation drawback wise is injury concerns and age. As I mentioned in an article I wrote a few weeks ago, these people say that Phillies have age and injury concerns slight the same concerns for the Yankees, Red Sox, Braves, and other teams. Could not a tweaked elbow happen to a CC Sabathia just as easily as Cliff Lee? Couldn’t Josh Beckett’s back injury pop up just as easily as Oswalt’s? With these age and injury questions being brought up by the mainstream media, depth is being mentioned as necessary for the Phillies. That depth is now provided by last year’s 5th starter Kyle Kendrick, and young Vance Worley.
Kendrick is an enigma. One game he has great stuff and pitches one of the better ball games you will see, the next two starts he is totally sub par and knocked around like he was a piñata at a birthday party. He does not have overpowering stuff, so a move to the bullpen as a swingman long reliever might pay off for him. He has the inside track to be the extra starter since he is a tried option, having been the 5th starter on the team during 2007, 2008, and 2010.
Vance Worley was just another arm in the system that had some promise but no one was sure of what he would deliver. He then went out and in 2010 pitched his way into the Phillies plans. The youngster was called up in July for a cup of coffee in the bigs and impressed Charlie Manuel and Rich Dubee in his one outing. After the AAA season was over and he was called up in September, Worley was even given a chance to get a few starts in and he still impressed including 5 innings of 1 hit ball against the Braves and a 5 strikeout, 2 earned run start against the Marlins.
A third option is Ex-Tigers swingman Eddie Bonine. A knuckleballer the Phillies signed early in the offseason to help provide depth to both the bullpen and rotation, he may junkball his way onto the depth chart with a good spring.
After them the depth gets noticeably thin. Drew Carpenter, Drew Naylor, Nate Bump, and several AAA regulars make up the next set of options. One intriguing option may be Ryan Freierbend, a former top Mariners prospect whose career track was derailed by Tommy John surgery. If healthy he may provide a left handed option for the rotation or bullpen. The blossoms of the Phillies farm system are still at least two or three years away at Clearwater and Lakewood, so in the event something happens the Phillies will either soldier on with the above mentioned or somehow work out a trade. Or they could always call Pedro Martinez and see if he wants another go at pitching.
I will do the bullpen and the position depth charts in my next article.
Barry Jeffrey Jr. writes “The Crow’s Nest” column for PSC.
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