A lot of you are asking for an analysis of the competitions for fifth starter and between Stairs/Mayberry/Donald/Giles for that final roster spot. This is happening either because a) you are fascinated by those things; b) the Phillies are giving you precious few subplots to follow this spring; or c) a little bit of both.
The day was full of news in Clearwater, and most of it had to do with those two storylines. Kendrick’s shellacking, Matt Stairs’ return, John Mayberry’s homer and almost-homer double (both were to the opposite field, by the way; his other home runs had been to left) and Jason Donald’s 3 for 4—they all provided us with more to analyze. We grilled Charlie Manuel and Rich Dubee for an uncommonly long 23 minutes after the Phils’ 12-10 loss to the Braves today, and many of our questions were about the two competitions.
There will be more about this in the paper tomorrow, of course, but I’ll give you the gist:
--J.A. Happ and Chan Ho Park have become the frontrunners—though that could change--for the simple reason that they require less development than Kendrick and Carrasco. Dubee was kinder in his assessment of Kendrick’s temperament today (that is to say, he didn’t spin around in his chair and rip into him unprovoked), but said that the pitcher is working on a changeup, and would need to hone it before he can pitch effectively to lefties. “I thought he’d have a better one in the game,” Dubee said.
Basically, Dubee said what smart fans and analysts know: Kendrick was almost exclusively a sinkerballer when he came up, and his sinker won’t cut it long-term against lefties. He must develop secondary pitches to compete as a major league starting pitcher.
Let me be clear: This might still happen, and he might still mature (digression: have you noticed that the president uses that phase, “let me be clear,” to begin, like, every other sentence? Is he afraid that he is never being clear?). Right, Kendrick…but Kendrick also might need more than the three remaining exhibition starts, especially to hone the changeup that is his primary spring project.
For the record, Dubee will not say who is leading the competition. The writers are left to infer from his compliments and criticisms where each candidate stands. But it is getting harder for the team to choose Kendrick over Happ or Park, unless—and this could certainly happen—one of those two pulls an Austin Powers and suddenly loses his mojo.
As for Carrasco, he probably would’ve needed a phenom-type spring to win the job. The Phillies are surely not eager to start his arbitration clock, and haven’t seen a reason to. Even Carrasco has suggested that he could benefit from time in Triple-A.
And Dubee just keeps praising Happ, saying that all the lefty needs to do is “keep showing what he’s showing. He’s been very good so far.”
Now the bench. John Maybery Jr. Jason Donald. Marcus Giles. Matt Stairs. Hey, Miguel Cairo homered today. So Charlie, who will get that job?
“So far we’re just letting them play,” the manager said. “We haven’t got there (as far as making decisions)…we’ve still got time.”
So we’re once again left to read between the lines. One of the more revealing comments Manuel has repeatedly made is that the young guys will need to be somewhere where they can get regular at-bats. Manuel feels strongly about this, for personal reasons.
“At 23 years old, I became a pinch hitter,” he said. “That was tough.” He believes that he is doing the right thing for young players when he sends them to Triple-A, if they won’t hit frequently with the big club. For now, I see no reason not to believe Manuel when he says, “It’ll kind of work out. 23 is a lot of games.”
And that’s true. Someone will stay hot, someone will get cold, someone else’s weakness will be exposed. And then yet another someone will get hurt in April, changing the whole equation.
Chase Utley will probably play next week, says the manager.
The intrasquad game this afternoon was played at the Joe DiMaggio Sports Complex, a little league-style field across the street from Bright House. It must have been nice for fans to see Myers, Lidge, Feliz etc. in that setting. The dugout was one of those fenced-in deals with a wooden bench, so spectators could walk right up to the players.
Many pitchers refuse to talk to anyone on the day they pitch, but Brad Lidge, five minutes before making his 2009 debut, sat on the bench, signing autographs and chatting with fans. If this guy isn’t wholesome, he sure has me fooled. In the story that ran today, I quoted Lidge saying, “Holy cow. We really did (win the World Series).” Locker room language is usually, um, not that clean. When Lidge made that comment the other day, I was thinking, “holy #&^%. Did a baseball player really just say ‘holy cow?’”