Last week, I wrote a little bit about one of the more under-the-radar competitions of spring training. It is under-the-radar because the spot that is up for grabs might not be a spot on the major league roster. Call it the sixth starter, as in, the starter who will be called up to join the rotation whenever the inevitable injuries strike. It hasn't been much of a question over the previous few seasons, because Kyle Kendrick has been the guy. This year, though, Kendrick is the No. 4 starter, and the No. 5 starters is John Lannan, who entered last season as the Nationals' No. 6 starter.
It's an important position because there is a good chance that the person who inhabits it will end up making a considerable number of starts.
A quick recap of previous seasons:
2012: Six different pitchers started at least 20 games for the Phillies.
2011: Six different pitchers started at least 15 games.
2010: Six different pitchers started at least 12 games.
2009: Six different pitchers started at least 10 games.
So for each of the previous four seasons, the Phillies needed six pitchers to start at least 10 games each. Those 10 games can be the difference between making the playoffs and going home for another early October.
Today, the Phillies reassigned Rodrigo Lopez to minor league camp less than 24 hours after he allowed 10 of the 16 batters he faced against the Braves to reach base. The 37-year-old will provide depth at Triple-A, but he probably won't be the first pitcher in line for a call-up if the Phillies need a replacement. I wouldn't be surprised to see the Phillies attempt to add more depth here once roster cuts start around the league. But for the time being, Aaron Cook looks like the man who will enter the season as the primary back-up. That could change depending on how the first couple months of the minor league season play out. Heading into spring training, the Phillies seemed to view 22-year-old righthander Jonathan Pettibone as the primary young candidate. But 23-year-old lefty Adam Morgan has had a very strong spring. He's been pitching for the Phillies' Triple-A team over in minor league camp and in his last outing tossed five scoreless innings against the Blue Jays, striking out six while allowing two hits and two walks. Morgan was impressive during his brief stint in major league camp. He only has six outings above Class A, all of which occurred for Double-A Reading at the end of last season. But he is a fast-riser, and I wouldn't be surprised to see him skip Double-A this season and open with Pettibone, Cook, Lopez, and Tyler Cloyd in the IronPigs rotation. Of course, I could also see the Phillies attempt to ride Cloyd, Cook and even Pettibone as far as they will take them before turning to Morgan.