Hard to count on Phillies' young arms
MUCH OF the Phillies' personnel failure over the last 3 years has been self-inflicted, an observation that bears repeating after a night in which Ryne Sandberg was forced to field a lineup that featured a trio of utility players occupying the top three spots in the order. The roster management at the major league level is not likely to inspire Michael Lewis to write any books in the near future. Unless, of course, he decides to try his hand at horror. In which case, we would highly recommend an extended-stay suite at the Holiday Inn.
Nevertheless, it would be unfair not to acknowledge that for all of the missteps that led to Cesar Hernandez followed by Freddy Galvis followed by Kevin Frandsen, the Phillies have also been the victims of a far less predictable scourge on the amateur side of things. The near-total failure of the organization's young pitching talent to fill some critical voids is one of the biggest threats to the team's viability moving forward.
Heading into 2013, the mound was the one place where the Phillies appeared to have some promising depth. But in last night's loss to the Nationals, Ethan Martin turned in another lackluster start and Justin De Fratus compounded matters by walking home a run in relief, the latest in a long line of disheartening developments by players on whom the organization is counting.
The hits came early and often in 2013. Phillippe Aumont was unable to live up to the belief that he would provide a much-needed power arm to the back end of the bullpen. The Phillies didn't even bother including him among the September call-ups. Promising starter Adam Morgan spent most of the year working his way back from a partially torn rotator cuff, which eliminated him from consideration for any of the number of openings in the rotation that popped up over the course of the season. Jonathan Pettibone spent a few months as a serviceable fifth starter, but he too ended up on the disabled list. Antonio Bastardo was suspended 50 games as a result of the Biogenesis investigation. Mike Stutes was once again plagued by shoulder problems. Jeremy Horst joined him on the disabled list.
The pitching breakdowns could be the result of scouting and development issues, or they could simply be the kinds of things that often happen to unproven talent. Either way, general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. and his staff will need to engage in some serious repair work this offseason if they hope to prevent a repeat showing in 2014.
Everybody knows about the question marks that exist on the offensive side of things. But a pitching staff that just a couple of seasons ago was one of the best in the game now features a critical shortage of answers. Beyond Cliff Lee, Cole Hamels and Jonathan Papelbon, there are nine voids that have few obvious candidates to fill them.
Jake Diekman is the only pitcher who has made any kind of statement since the tryout portion of the season began in the wake of the July 31 nonwaiver trade deadline. At first pitch last night, Diekman had a 2.90 ERA and solid averages of 9.0 strikeouts, 3.8 walks and 0.3 home runs per nine innings.
But De Fratus was walking an average of 4.7 per nine, a prime reason why his ERA sat at 4.74. Likewise, Martin has issued 21 walks in 30 innings to go with eight home runs. The 24-year-old power righthander has not made it to the fifth inning in any of his last three starts. With Roy Halladay back in the rotation, at least for the time being, and righthander Tyler Cloyd back on the roster, the Phillies' best course of action might be to send Martin to the bullpen to get an advance look at how his velocity and command might play in the role where he is most likely to help the team next year.
Even if the Phillies' lineup were to transform itself from one of the most feeble units in the majors to the 1927 Yankees, the outlook for 2014 would be hazy at best, given the amount of questions in the pitching ranks.
The Phillies have spent the last three offseasons struggling to find one or two capable veterans on the free-agent market, let alone five or six or seven or eight. The pitchers Amaro has signed as offseason free agents starts with Cliff Lee, Jonathan Papelbon, Chan Ho Park and the first go-around with Jose Contreras and then plunges into Danys Baez, J.C. Romero, Chad Qualls, Contreras (Part II), Dontrelle Willis, Mike Adams and Chad Durbin. That's 4-for-11, if you don't consider the monstrosity of a contract that Papelbon signed.
A .363 average might be good enough at the plate, but for the Phillies to have a chance at escaping their current doldrums, it needs to rise significantly moving forward.
On Twitter: @ByDavidMurphy