There are no replays or radar guns or umpires on the playing fields at the Carpenter Complex, so you have to rely on your eyes and comparative analysis to render any sort of judgments about the pitchers who are throwing live batting practice here. Today, we had a chance to watch Miguel Alfredo Gonzalez and Jake Diekman throw back-to-back against the same batters. It didn't take a seasoned scout to recognize that there was no comparison between the two. Life, location, velocity, bite: adv Diekman, adv Diekman, adv Diekman, adv Diekman. One looked like a major leaguer, drawing complimentary raised eyebrows from hitters, the other struggled to find the strike zone consistently, and rarely missed a bat when he did.
That's not to say we should be comparing Diekman, a lefty reliever who throws in the mid-to-high 90's, and Gonzalez, a righty starter who is alleged to throw in the low-to-mid 90's. It's just to say that you don't need much in the way of gadgets or insights to recognize that a guy has a lot of work to do before he is major league ready. You just need to watch the catcher and the hitters. Gonzalez really struggled to locate his offspeed stuff today. And while his fastball looked good when it found the inner third of the plate, it rarely did so, and when it did, it was often followed by a pitch that sent Carlos Ruiz leaping out of his stance. Ruiz got quite a workout with Gonzalez on the mound. And the hitters made quite a bit of solid contact. Domonic Brown, Byrd, Tony Gwynn Jr. were the three who were in rotation against Diekman and Gonzalez. All three were right on him, regardless of the pitch. I saw one swing-and-miss, and that was a check swing sort of thing. There was no sizzle at all to his stuff. For the hundredth time, it's early, and the Phillies have plenty of time for their $12 million investment to pay off. But we're talking about 2014 right now, and right now it's really hard to see Gonzalez making up enough ground to even be in the conversation for Opening Day. The guy I saw today would have gotten rocked in the Grapefruit League.
All of this raises concerns for a Phillies rotation that could be without Cole Hamels for the first two times through the rotation. The Phillies probably do not need a No. 5 starter until April 14, thanks to their off days. So they might not need anybody behind Cliff Lee, A.J. Burnett, Kyle Kendrick and Roberto Hernandez. At some point, though, the Phillies are going to need somebody to stick in there for 15 days or a month once the inevitable injuries start to strike. And right now, there is no clear answer to who that pitcher will be. Jonathan Pettibone is battling shoulder soreness, which he also battled last year. Suddenly, he is a question mark for the early going of the season. Behind him, there is very little.
Sean O'Sullivan is suddenly a guy you should be watching. In 37 major league starts, O'Sullivan has a 6.02 ERA with 97 strikeouts and 80 walks along with 36 home runs in 196 innings. None of those numbers are impressive.In three starts for the Padres last season, O'Sullivan walked more batters than he struck out (11 versus nine), but allowed just six runs in 17 1/3 innings. He appeared in four other games as a reliever, allowing six runs (with three walks and three strikeouts) in 7 2/3 innings.
He spent the rest of the season at Triple-A Tuscon, starting 20 games with a 3.83 ERA, 7.7 K/9, 2.4 BB/9 and 0.5 HR/9.
Another guy in camp is Jeff Manship. Feel free to Google him. David Buchanan is a home grown minor leaguer who is in camp and who will have an opportunity to put himself in position for a spot start. Right now, though, Ethan Martin is probably the answer should the Phillies need a spot starter.
The free agent market is pretty well depleted. Joe Saunders is the one guy who is still out there who might offer some value on a minor leauge deal. It's fair to say that starting pitching depth is still a huge concern even after the signing of A.J. Burnett.