Friday, August 28, 2015

A spring search for replacement starters

CLEARWATER, Fla. — Whenever a Phillies starter succumbed to injury in recent years, the solution was uncomplicated. Kyle Kendrick was plucked from the bullpen, inserted into the rotation, and the Phillies cherished that familiarity.

A spring search for replacement starters

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Kyle Kendrick allowed five runs on five hits, including three home runs, against the Nationals. (Ron Cortes/Staff Photographer)
Kyle Kendrick allowed five runs on five hits, including three home runs, against the Nationals. (Ron Cortes/Staff Photographer)

CLEARWATER, Fla. — Whenever a Phillies starter succumbed to injury in recent years, the solution was uncomplicated. Kyle Kendrick was plucked from the bullpen, inserted into the rotation, and the Phillies cherished that familiarity.

Now, Kendrick is the fourth starter, and such a luxury does not exist. The Phillies will need a sixth, probably seventh, and maybe even eighth starter at some point during 2013. In the last 30 years, only the 2003 Mariners lasted an entire season using five starters.

The Phillies have averaged 9.6 starters per season over the past decade. They were blessed in 2008 and 2011 when only seven different pitchers started games.

Spring training is the chance for pitching coach Rich Dubee to formulate a depth chart.

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"One thing I tell our guys in our meeting early, 'If you do not make our team, leave a lasting impression. Leave a good lasting impression,'" Dubee said. "When we're thinking about calling guys up, what we have basically is what we've seen in spring training. If you leave a pretty good impression on us, odds are your name comes to our mouth pretty quickly."

There is no shortage of options. The Phillies signed veterans Rodrigo Lopez and Aaron Cook to minor-league deals. Both righties, while underwhelming, represent the sort of triple-A depth a team requires.

Cook is a Article XX-B free agent, which means he must be added to the Phillies roster by March 27 or receive a $100,000 retention bonus to go to triple A.

Tyler Cloyd destroyed the International League in 2012 and made six Phillies starts for a 4.91 ERA. Jonathan Pettibone is 22 and perhaps the most polished young arm in the minor-league system.

Beyond that, Adam Morgan and Ethan Martin offer promise, but probably need more seasoning.

The early spring will be a chance for the extra starters to make that impression Dubee craves.

"We're always open-minded," Dubee said. "We feel very good in this organization about Pettibone, Martin and Morgan. We've added some veterans like Cook and Lopez for starting depth. And that's something we need. Knock on wood, I'd love to go through the season with five starters but that's awfully tough to do. All of these guys have a chance."

John Lannan, signed to a one-year, $2.5 million deal, is the favorite for the fifth starter spot. Dubee, in fact, talks like Lannan already has it.

Nonetheless, if there is an injury or Lannan stumbles, a bunch of pitchers are jockeying this spring for the first call.

IN MONDAY'S INQUIRER

- Jonathan Papelbon is a huge fan of the revamped bullpen. He also calls 2012 a "total failure" and saw a Phillies organization that panicked from top to bottom.

- While Michael Schwimer and the Phillies may still be at odds, he remains on the team. His is a curious case.

- In the notes, catcher Humberto Quintero settles down, even if it's for a month.


Have a question? Send it to Matt Gelb's Mailbag.

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