Getting Eaton Alive

The frontrunner for the No. 5 spot in the Phillies rotation?

Adam Eaton.

Eaton, who went 10-10 with a 6.29 ERA last season. Eaton, who the Phillies left off the postseason roster. Eaton, who is 0-2 with a 15.75 ERA in two starts this spring.

Yes, despite those things he's still the frontrunner for the job. That's because he signed a three-year, $24.5 million contract before the 2007 season, and that type of money simply gets you ahead of pitchers like Chad Durbin, J.D. Durbin and Travis Blackley. But Eaton's lead over the Durbins and Blackley and other potential rotation contenders like Francisco Rosario and Fabio Castro has shrunk considerably in the last week. (Carlos Carrasco has pitched well this spring, but Phillies assistant general manager Mike Arbuckle has said he needs at least another full year in the minors. Others backed up Arbuckle's words yesterday by calling Carrasco a long shot.)

Eaton's lead has shrunk not only because he hasn't looked good in his first two Grapefruit League starts, but because he now says he has back issues that have been bothering him since July.

Eaton will have the back examined again today.

Eaton made a brief mention of his back problems after his first start, but said it's worse today. Eaton said the back flared up in the winter. Curiously, he never mentioned the problem to the Phillies over the winter.

"We had the back looked at, and according to our doctors there's nothing there that should keep him out of activity," pitching coach Rich Dubee said. "I asked him after the first inning and he said his back was a little stiff, but he was fine to go."

"We're aware of it, but at the same time he can go," manager Charlie Manuel said. "When it comes his turn and he can go then we'll let him out there and pitch. If his back is bothering him, we'll check it out. And if it continues to bother him, we'll probably shut him down. I said probably. I didn't say we were."

Eaton seems to be pitching himself out of a job that seemed almost impossible to lose. But the Phillies simply can't afford to put Eaton out there if he continues to get rocked this spring. You'd rather take your chances with Durbin, Durbin or Blackley at that point.


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