The competition for the No. 5 spot in the rotation took an interesting turn today as Adam Eaton revealed that his back is, in fact, an issue. The veteran righty, whose hefty contract left the Phillies very, very disappointed last year, attributed his struggles today against the Devil Rays to soreness in his back that kept him from properly extending during his rotation.
This is news for a couple of reasons:
1) Eaton attributed last year's struggles to a problem with his shoulder, which he says he has since rectified.
2) Just Saturday, the pitcher labelled the back a "non-issue."
It isn't clear what, exactly is wrong. Eaton said he's had two sets of X-Rays over the past week, the most recent of which came Monday. Doctors were looking for stress fractures in the spine, but found none.
Still, Eaton says, "There's got to be something there for it to feel like this."
So what now?
Eaton said he is an "optimist" so he will plan on making his next start. But when a reporter asked about potentially shutting himself down for awhile to get healthy, he didn't discount the idea. Manager Charlie Manuel said he knew about the back, but the Phillies obviously aren't sure what to do, since a problem can't be found. Manuel mentioned shutting Eaton down as a possibility too.
Still. . .
“Of course I’m aware his back has been bothering him some,” he said. “We’re kind of aware of it, but at the same time, he can go, and when it comes his turn and he can go, we’ll let him pitch.”
This is just a hunch, but I think the Phillies are going to take a very long look at Travis Blackley down the stretch here. Manuel said after the game that the team is going to try to get Blackley a start here in the near future. Blackley is the only competitor for the fifth spot who hasn't given up a run in either of his two spring training appearances (except, of course, for Kris Benson, who hasn't appeared yet). He's showed nice command of his off-speed pitches, and an ability to keep batters off balanced. Keep in mind, this kid was once the top pitching prospect in the Mariners' organization.
We'll keep an eye on Eaton's back for you.