Phillies' offseason includes search for starting pitching
MIAMI - The final weekend of the 2013 season will see the Phillies, a team that left spring training with the hopes of being a contender built around starting pitching, sending journeyman Zach Miner and an unnamed member of their bullpen to the mound at Turner Field.
From Roy Halladay and John Lannan's ailing body parts to the inconsistency of Kyle Kendrick, the five-man rotation the Phils assembled last winter didn't even stay together for a month.
For the second straight turn in the rotation, Miner handled his starting chore with ease against the sad-sack Miami Marlins, limiting them to one run on four hits in four innings of the Phillies' 2-1 win last night.
Miner, a 31-year-old righthander who was taken one pick after Cliff Lee in the 2000 draft, has a 3.08 ERA in 15 games with the Phillies this season. Miner has a 2.53 ERA in 12 games since allowing three runs on four hits and a walk in a disastrous third of an inning on Aug. 10 in Washington.
Miner, however, will not be a part of the 2014 starting rotation. Beyond Lee and Cole Hamels, the latter who makes his final start of 2013 tonight, there isn't a sure bet for anyone in the '14 starting five, aside from Cuban free-agent signee Miguel Alfredo Gonzalez, who never has appeared in a major league game.
Unless the Phillies are going to hitch their proverbial wagons on uncertainties like Halladay (free agent), Kendrick (arbitration eligible) and Lannan (arbitration eligible), or young (read: unproven) arms like Jonathan Pettibone, they are almost certainly going to have to go outside the organization to find a starting pitcher or two.
"Possibly, yeah," general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. said yesterday afternoon.
And Amaro's opinion on the winter's free-agent class?
"There are some guys out there that are OK," he said.
He sounds pretty excited, eh? But there are upgrades from the likes of Lannan, Kendrick and Miner.
Among the more interesting names: Ervin Santana, Matt Garza, Tim Lincecum. Jorge De La Rosa and Ubaldo Jimenez also could hit the open market if their respective teams decline club options.
With instability abound - beyond Hamels and Lee - it would seem to be a necessity that the Phils pursue at least one reliable veteran free agent in the coming months.
"Starting pitching is a priority," manager Ryne Sandberg said. "Pettibone showed some good stuff. Gonzalez could be in the mix. We'll see what Kendrick does. But starting pitching is very much a priority - and also depth in starting pitching. You need backups in starting pitching to get through a major league season."
Miner may be the very definition of a major league backup, a guy stuffed in Triple A all season in the event he's needed in the big leagues for a game or two. Guys like Miner may cut it in a meaningless game against a woeful Marlins lineup, but the Phillies will need stability if they expect Sandberg to lead the team back to contention in 2014.
They almost have to sign a legitimate free-agent starting pitcher - think more like Lee, less like Lannan - this winter, right?
"Maybe," Amaro said. "A lot of it depends on what we see this offseason from Miguel Alfredo. See how he looks physically and such. He's just starting throwing for us, starting tossing. We'll know a little bit more after [instructional league] and as he continues in Clearwater."
Sandberg will descend upon Clearwater to get his own look in a week or 2. For the next 5 days, he'll hope to squeeze out a few more wins from the staff as it's currently assembled.
Miner may not be part of the Phillies' plans next season, but he did his part last night to help put a stop to his team's five-game losing streak. After the Phils scored twice in their first at-bat, Miner sent Miami down in order in the bottom of the first.
"Zach did a nice job," Sandberg said of Miner, who has allowed one run in a total of seven innings in back-to-back spot starts. "That was a good lift for us on a semibullpen day.
One day removed from Halladay handing the ball over after recording just one out, Miner gave the bullpen a bit of a breather in pitching four innings. It was the most he's pitched in a game since going five innings in his final start at Triple A Lehigh Valley 2 months earlier.
Before last month, Miner hadn't pitched in a major league game since 2009.
"It's been a long couple of years," Miner said. "I'm very grateful for the opportunity the Phillies are giving me. I get to start. It's great. If I was throwing the seventh or eighth or mopping up, I'd have fun doing that, too."
One night removed from being shut out for the 14th time, the Phils' offense hardly put on a show. Then again, it doesn't exactly take a lot to score more runs than the Marlins, who entered the night with 79 fewer runs than any other major league team and an average of 3.2 runs per game.
After Jimmy Rollins hit a one-out double in the first, Miami starter Henderson Alvarez walked three straight batters, forcing in the game's first run. Kevin Frandsen knocked in the eventual game-winner when he followed with a ground out to shortstop.
The loss was the 100th of the season for the Marlins. The Phillies can avoid reaching 90 losses by winning just one of the final five games on their schedule.
On Twitter: @ryanlawrence21