CLEARWATER, Fla. — It's about this time of spring when fretting about the opening day roster becomes the cool thing to do, except when you realize it's merely an opening day roster.
The Phillies began 2011 with Ben Francisco as the starting right fielder. J.C. Romero and Danys Baez were in the bullpen. Things change. April 5 is the first hard deadline, and forming a 25-man roster this year just so happens to be harder for the Phillies than it typically is.
The bullpen, especially, is a quandary right now. Beyond Jonathan Papelbon and Chad Qualls, both of whom have had strong springs, there are few certainties.
Mike Stutes and Jose Contreras will not travel north with the team Sunday night. They will (maybe) pitch in minor-league games in Florida to test their arms. Maybe they'll be healthy enough to begin the season on the roster. Maybe it'll take five or six extra days on the disabled list to make them ready. Maybe more.
Maybe the Phillies take 11 pitchers. Maybe they decide 12 is better. Maybe Antonio Bastardo hits 93 m.p.h. on the radar guns in Tampa, Fla., Friday night. Maybe he doesn't and the left forearm stiffness is something more than dehydration.
For now, pitching coach Rich Dubee believes two of those three questions should be answered by April 5. When asked if Stutes had enough time to be ready, he said, "Oh hell yeah." If Bastardo pitches well this weekend, those concerns are alleviated. It's likely Contreras will require those extra five days, at least, on the disabled list.
"He's not there with his split yet," Dubee said. "I'd like to see him get consistent with his split. His fastball velocity and action, slider velocity and action are there. We need to get him solid on three pitches."
But what if all three, or even two, are sidelined? Let's just say the Phillies have more pressing injury woes.
Think about the potential triple-A Lehigh Valley bullpen:
Justin De Fratus*
* De Fratus will begin the season on the disabled list, but is progressing well after lengthy rest for his sore right elbow.
There are a lot of useful parts there, and parts that will undoubtedly be used sometime in 2012. Remember the constant refrain when both Romero and Baez made the team out of camp last spring?
How could Stutes NOT make this team?
Well, you're now saying the same thing about Diekman and, to an extent, Aumont. Stutes didn't make the team after a spectacular spring, but was on the roster before the end of April and never left.
There should be concern for both Stutes and Bastardo because they provided the Phillies with so many crucial innings in 2011. But relief pitching is a fickle monster. Few expected Stutes and Bastardo to produce the quality amount of innings they did. And with so many options in reserve, it could happen again.
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