If the world was a strict meritocracy, David Buchanan would be making his major league debut for the Phillies on Sunday. But the world is not a strict meritocracy, as anybody who has watched reality television can attest, and thus we must acknowledge that the Phillies could end up going with Jonathan Pettibone for a couple of reasons.
Before we get too deep, though, a quick recap: the Phillies originally thought they would not need a fifth starter until April 13, but the postponement of today's home opener means that Kyle Kendrick will pitch tomorrow instead of today, which means he will only be on three days rest on Saturday, and none of the other three starters will be fully rested. So, the Phillies need a fifth starter.
There is little question that Buchanan is pitching the best of all internal options right now. A case could be made for Jefferson Manship, who has thrown a couple of scoreless innings out of the bullpen after a long spring. But Buchanan recently threw six scoreless inning with five strikeouts, two walks and two hits in his 2014 debut at Triple-A Lehigh Valley. This after a spring in which he was the sharpest of all of the pitchers vying to back-up Cole Hamels, who is still two to three weeks away from a return.
The Phillies essentially have three options:
2) Jonathan Pettibone, who allowed three runs on four hits and a walk with two strikeouts in five innings for Triple-A Lehigh Valley on Sunday.
3) Bullpen game, starting with Manship.
A bullpen game would seem a bit silly, not to mention unnecessary, given the facts that, A) The Phillies have two options in Buchanan and Pettibone and, B) The Phillies bullpen hasn't been the most efficient operation in the world over the last two-plus calendar years. Nevertheless, we have to raise the possibility, because they've done it before, starting Raul Valdez, B.J. Rosenberg and Zach Miner in six games over the last two seasons. Those games turned out about as well as you would have expected, with that trio combining to allow 19 runs in 18 innings (although, to be fair, Rosenberg only allowed one of those).
Pettibone has a couple of things going for him. First and foremost, he is familiar, having made 18 starts for the Phillies last season, during which time they went 10-8. Second, he is on the 40-man roster, and David Buchanan is not, and the 40-man roster is full. The fact that Pettibone pitched yesterday means he could start on Saturday on normal rest (plus an extra day). All of those conveniences could very well prompt the Phillies to bring up Pettibone, who would then face the Braves in Philly on Thursday, the Dodgers in Los Angeles on April 22, and the Diamondbacks in Arizona on April 27. At that point, Cole Hamels is expected to rejoin the rotation.
A couple of notes:
1) Braves, Dodgers, Diamondbacks. Important games, two of them on the road, all against teams expected to contend for the postseason.
2) Pettibone, a SoCal native, pitched at Dodger Stadium last June, allowing three runs on four hits and a walk with four strikeouts in six innings of a 6-4 loss. He faced the Braves on July 7, allowing one run with six strikeouts and a walk in 5 1/3 innings of a 7-3 Phillies win.
3) Pettibone has not pitched in the majors since July 28, his last start before hitting the DL with the shoulder soreness that eventually ended his season. Pettibone had a recurrence of that soreness this spring.
From this vantage point, the Phillies are not in a position where they can afford to base a move on any criteria other than who gives them the best chance to win. They might feel that is Pettibone, but keep in mind that he lasted less than six innings in 9 of 18 starts last season and walked three or more batters in 7 of 18. Opposing hitters posted a .284/.354/.427 line against him. His strikeout and walk rates were both worse than league average, as was his strike percentage. His 4.04 ERA and 95 ERA+ probably look a bit better than his peripherals.
I'd rather see Buchanan, because it'd be more interesting, so I would probably end up talking myself into thinking he's also the appropriate choice from the Phillies' perspective. Gives them a chance to throw him into the fire and see what happens. But I also understand why they would go with Pettibone, especially since it is likely to be three starts and back to the minors.
If Buchanan is the guy, the Phillies will need to make a 40-man roster move.
The three guys on the chopping block are probably Luis Garcia, Tyson Gillies and Zach Collier.
Garcia has three strikeouts and a walk in two scoreless innings at Triple-A Lehigh Valley but he walked 6.6 batters per nine innings last season and appeared in just two Grapefruit League games this spring (one walk, no strikeouts, five runs in two innings). He is 27 years old and was pitching in Independent League ball last summer.
Gillies finally managed to stay healthy last season, but he hit .241/.298/.387, and he has yet to play this season due to more hamstring troubles. The 25-year-old probably should not play a role in any decision the Phillies make at the big league level.
Collier is regarded as a good defender, but he has hit just .240/.313/.350 in six minor league seasons. Plus, the Phillies are four-deep at center field with Ben Revere, Tony Gwynn Jr., John Mayberry Jr., and Triple-A veteran Clete Thomas.