Villone could be a relief for what ails Phillies

The Phillies want to improve their bullpen. If they are to have any hope at all of being a competitive team this season, they need to improve their bullpen.

Assistant general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. said yesterday the team isn't content to sit and wait for Tom Gordon (shoulder inflammation) and Ryan Madson (strained oblique) to come off the disabled list. He even made the point that the Phils can't even assume the cortisone shot Gordon received would necessarily allow him to pitch again this year.

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"If he comes back, throws and he's not healthy, he's not coming back," Amaro noted pragmatically.

At the same time, any sense of urgency runs into another implacable reality: It isn't easy to trade for pitching help at any time of the year, but it's particularly difficult in the middle of May.

Which makes the whole Ron Villone situation so intriguing.

Villone, a 37-year-old lefthander, is currently pitching for the Triple A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre Yankees. He's doing pretty well, too. Going into last night's game against Columbus, he had a 1.90 earned run average with 27 strikeouts in 23 2/3 innings.

But that's not the interesting part. The interesting part is that he has a clause in his contract stipulating that, if he's not in the big leagues by today, he can request free agency. The Yankees then have 24 hours to call him up or he's free to sign with the highest bidder.

Speculation in the Bronx is that, with lefthanders Sean Henn and Mike Myers already in the bullpen, the Yankees don't have room for Villone.

Amaro, citing tampering rules, declined to comment on what interest the Phillies might have in Villone beyond saying, "What we need, what we'd like to have, is somebody with some experience who would help [manager Charlie Manuel] hold down the game."

Another Phillies baseball man said he didn't know if the Phillies were interested or not, but added: "Would he make us better? I sure think he would."

Villone's Yankee contract calls for a $2.5 million salary if he's promoted. If he becomes a free agent, however, agent Scott Boras is free to negotiate the best deal he can get.

In another scenario, the Yankees could pre-empt Villone's demand by trading him, thus getting something in return if they don't think they can accommodate him at this time. Again, Amaro wouldn't say whether the Phillies have asked the Yankees about Villone.

Villone, a veteran of 12 big-league seasons, was 3-3 with a 5.04 ERA in 70 games for the Yankees in 2006.

 

Working overtime

The good news is that the Phillies' starters are pitching deep into games.

The good news is that the Phillies' starters are pitching deep into games.

The bad news is that Phillies starters are pitching so deep into games.

The rotation already has 14 starts of seven or more innings this season, including six of the last 10 games. After the same number of games last season, it had happened just 10 times.

Charlie Manuel said during spring training he'd like to see his rotation have the ability to pitch into the late innings more often. That allows him to rely less on the bullpen. The flip side, of course, is the danger that the extra workload will catch up with them as the season goes on.

Phillies starters have logged 233 1/3 innings so far. Cole Hamels (54 2/3) and Jamie Moyer (54 1/3) rank among the league leaders in innings pitched.

"It's a long season," Manuel said. "I'm concerned about that. I don't want to overload them. It's important that we don't pitch them too much, especially early in the season."

 

Phillers

Tom Gordon, who is on the disabled list with an inflamed shoulder, was discharged from the hospital after having tests yesterday. He's been battling pneumonia. It's unknown when he might be able to try to throw . . . Catcher Carlos Ruiz led off the third by lining a shot off Brewers starter Dave Bush. Bush recovered in time to retrieve the ball and throw Ruiz out at first, then dropped to the grass. After being examined, he remained in the game and ended up pitching 5 1/3 innings. *

Tom Gordon, who is on the disabled list with an inflamed shoulder, was discharged from the hospital after having tests yesterday. He's been battling pneumonia. It's unknown when he might be able to try to throw . . . Catcher Carlos Ruiz led off the third by lining a shot off Brewers starter Dave Bush. Bush recovered in time to retrieve the ball and throw Ruiz out at first, then dropped to the grass. After being examined, he remained in the game and ended up pitching 5 1/3 innings. *