Monday, March 23, 2009

Phillies pitchers 'phight' for jobs

The Philadelphia Phillies head into the 2009 MLB season as the reigning World Series champions. However, the team has made the local and national news this preseason due to uncertainty involving the roster, specifically the pitching staff.

World Series MVP Cole Hamels’ face was seen all over ESPN and SportsCenter. Monday, he was sent from the team’s spring training facilities in Clearwater, Fla. back to Philadelphia to have his left elbow examined. Hamels expressed feeling tightness and discomfort in his pitching elbow, and the team decided it would be best to have their young ace checked out for precautionary reasons.

The saga continued Tuesday night when it was reported that Hamels' elbow was not structurally damaged, just inflamed. However, pitching coach Rich Dubee said that he did not believe that the southpaw would be ready to start on Opening Day. Hamels told reporters the next day that he is still working towards pitching on opening day but that he would let the team make the decision. Hamels was back to work on Saturday, throwing a bullpen session, and will pitch in a minor league game on Tuesday.

While it is good news for the Philly faithful that Hamels is not seriously injured, there is cause for concern. Hamels has had an injury plagued career and it’s not the first time he’s hurt his pitching arm; he’s broken his pitching arm twice, experienced left elbow tendinitis, elbow soreness, a left shoulder strain, and has also gone on the disabled list with a back injury. Last season was the first time in his eight-year professional career he did not go on the DL. He pitched 262 1/3 innings last year, including the playoffs, which were 79 more innings than the year before. The wear and tear of a long season and a spotty injury history are certainly red flags concerning the 25-year-old. The Phillies made the right moves in getting him checked out and not rushing him back.

Even on the local level, the pitching staff is still the area of interest. The Philadelphia media, while concerned about the team’s ace, focused heavily on the back-end of the rotation. The fifth starter spot is up for grabs, as well as a spot in the bullpen for the runner-up. The competition involves incumbent starter Kyle Kendrick, last season’s young fill-in J.A. Happ, free agent signing Chan Ho Park, and top prospect Carlos Carrasco.

Kendrick has to earn back his job because of his performance in the second half of last season. He had a quality rookie season in 2007, and was solid in the beginning of 2008. However, after the all-star break, Kendrick hit a wall and struggled and was eventually left off the playoff roster. Kendrick has had his ups and downs in spring training, and is no longer considered the favorite to win the spot, but on Saturday, he threw his best outing of the spring and is hanging around in the competition.

Happ started last season in Triple-A, but was called up for a spot start to replace the struggling Brett Myers. He started three more games that season, appeared in a total of eight regular season games, and earned a spot on the Phillies’ playoff roster. This spring he has impressed and has been considered one of the two favorites for the fifth starting spot, but had a less than stellar outing on Wednesday.

The other favorite is Chan Ho Park. He was signed over the winter with the intent of pitching out of the bullpen, but with the promise of competing for a starting spot. Park has impressed the organization with quality starts, but he missed his scheduled start on Saturday with a sore left hamstring.

Carrasco has not enjoyed a stellar spring. However, he has learned a great deal and has pitched better as of late.

Carrasco, only 22, should start the season in Triple-A and gain some seasoning. Kendrick has struggled to maintain his form and confidence and should also start the season in Triple-A in order to work on his technique and get himself back together. Happ will wind up a victim of circumstance. The Phillies will be without reliever J.C. Romero for the first 50 games because of suspension. That leaves the team with only one left-hander in the bullpen. Happ pitched mostly out of the bullpen for the team last year and would serve as Romero’s replacement and a long-inning reliever when he returns. Park would be a welcome veteran to the staff.

Photo Credits:
Cole Hamels: AP Photo/Kathy Willens
Kyle Kendrick: AP Photo/Kathy Willens
J.A. Happ: AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar
Chan Ho Park: AP Photo/Yonhap. Do Kwang-hwan
Carlos Carrasco: AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar

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