The Phillies have not tried to hide their concern about their perilously thin pitching depth. Throughout the offseason, they've said that they are actively looking for a few good arms. Problem is, there are few arms to be found. Consider: righthander Rodrigo Lopez, who last year started the season at Triple-A Lehigh Valley then made five spot-starts after injuries to righthander Brett Myers and lefthander Antonio Bastardo, will enter 2010 as a member of the Diamondbacks rotation. And he will be their fourth starter.
So this is the plan the Phillies are left with as Joe Blanton heads to the disabled list for an estimated three-to-six week stay, according to GM Ruben Amaro Jr.: Move Kyle Kendrick into the rotation, mobilize Triple-A righthander Andrew Carpenter as a potential long reliever, and say a prayer for a healthy couple of months.
"If we had another guy go down, we'd be scrambling a little bit," Amaro admitted yesterday.
That said, the Phillies will treat Blanton's injury with extreme caution, having seen the destruction that a lingering oblique injury can cause. Last year, right-handed reliever Clay Condrey ended up missing close to three months due to an oblique that just wouldn't heal. Amaro echoed what team doctor Michael Ciccotti said earlier in the morning, that Blanton's injury is not as severe as Condrey's, that the main is "more localized," and thus has less of a chance of lingering.
Still, with health now at an absolute priority, the Phillies will gladly sacrifice a week or two extra without Blanton if it means having him 100 percent for the bulk of the season.
"As Dr. Ciccotti said, this is pretty mild, and we are trying to take every precaution to make sure that this is not a recurring thing and we can knock it out and not have to worry about it over the course of the year and have it come back and bite us," Amaro said. "We're going to be cautious with it now, because it's better off being cautious with it now as we have been with J.C. (Romero) and (Brad) Lidge and others in the past so that we can have them be viable and ready once they are pitching to go in a straight line rather than worry about if they are going to have problems."
The Phillies have maintained contact with the agent for righthander Pedro Martinez, who joined the team last July and pitched well down the stretch. But Amaro said Martinez is not an option to replace Blanton. He said they have not talked with representatives for free agent lefty Jarrod Washburn, who remains on the free agent market.
"I don't think they are options for now to deal with the Blanton stuff," Amaro said.
But they would be options if the Phillies were to suffer another injury -- or if either Moyer or Kendrick struggle as starters. Carpenter made a spot start against the Nationals last year, but the upper levels of the minor league system is largely devoid of major league experience or major-league-ready prospects. The Phillies traded lefthander Cliff Lee to Seattle this offseason, dealt former top pitching prospect Carlos Carrasco to the Indians last year when they acquired Lee, and sent top prospect Kyle Drabek to the Blue Jays in the trade for Halladay.
"That's one of the things we don't have, is a lot of pitching depth," Amaro said. "We have some bullpen depth, but we don't have a lot of starting pitching depth. There's a hole in there, between the major leagues and A-Ball, where there aren't a lot of candidates for us starting-wise. That is some of the risk in making some of the trades we've made. It's kind of what happens when you make a run for things and you try to improve your club at the major league level, you have to sacrifice, and this is where we sacrificed. Hopefully we can kind of weather the storm here a little bit."
The Phillies have placed righthander Brad Lidge and lefthander J.C. Romero on the disabled list, back-dated to March 26. They will be eligible to join the active roster on April 10, although both are likely to remain in Florida longer than that.