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About This Fifth-Starter Mess

Today was another sickly trip on the fifth-starter roller coater, as JD Durbin surrendered five runs on eight hits in 3.1 innings today. His performance marks another notch in a long line of tough outings by the candidates for fifth starter. Travis Blackley was unable to get out of the second inning in his start, giving up a slew of runs while walking four. Chad Durbin — the one figured to be the first in line for an emergency start — hasn’t been that good either. Bottom line: The three men vying for the fifth starter spot are all failing.

It seems, however, the Phils are going to open the race up a bit more. Fabio Castro, who I originally said isn’t the right guy for the fifth starter job, is getting a start Wednesday. His splits show a pitcher with great numbers against left-handed hitters, but poor numbers against righties. He’s destined for a rough game, and if he doesn’t have one, we’re only delaying the inevitable. I’m not trying to say Castro is going to be a poor starter, but the kid needs to pitch in small doses and develop as a reliever, especially as the team tries to contend for a division title.

The big point, obviously, is why a team trying to contend for a division title is so in flux with its fifth-starter situation. Adam Eaton is bad. We knew that; hopefully, the front office knew that. Yet the collection of replacements reads like the Tacoma Rainers media guide — JD Durbin, Chad Durbin, Travis Blackley, Fabio Castro, Francisco Rosario. To be fair, Chad Durbin’s 4.72 ERA from 2007 is suitable in the five spot, but the Phillies knew Eaton was an injury concern. They also knew Jamie Moyer would be 45 and Kyle Kendrick wouldn’t be a sure bet. Depth — experienced, proven depth — was essential for the Phillies in the offseason. While they grabbed a couple bargain bin starters, nobody screams “experienced, proven depth.”

Nobody except Kris Benson. And if Benson pans out (he threw from the mound again today and felt fine, and will go again Thursday in a Minor League game), we may not need to be distressed. But as it stands, with so much in the air, it’s not exactly a novel situation.

The good thing is, as it’s been reported already, the Phillies will only need the fifth starter twice in the first 22 games — April 9 and again April 19. Both contests, negatively enough, are against the Mets.

But maybe that’s not so bad. Let me break down a few lines for you:

Travis Blackley vs. NYM: N/A
Chad Durbin vs. NYM: 8 IP, 6 H, 3 ER, 1 BB, 4 K (3.38 ERA)
JD Durbin vs. NYM: 11 IP, 14 H, 8 ER, 2 BB, 11 K (6.55 ERA)
Francisco Rosario vs. NYM: 1 IP, 1 H, 1 ER, 1 BB (9.00 ERA)
Fabio Castro vs. NYM: 6 IP, 3 H, 1 ER, 1 BB, 2 K (1.50 ERA)
Kris Benson vs. NYM: 54.2 IP, 54 H, 19 ER, 15 BB, 33 K (3.13 ERA)
Adam Eaton vs. NYM: 43.2 IP, 34 H, 13 ER, 12 BB, 18 K (2.68 ERA)

Oddly enough, most of the candidates have good career numbers against the Mets. Eaton carried a respectable 3.86 ERA and .253 opponents AVG against the Mets in four starts last season. Benson has also pitched a lot against his former team and has fared well. Chad Durbin had one start, but it was a quality start. If Eaton returns healthy before Opening Day, there is a chance he’d get those two starts. From that point, however, all bets could be off. It’s not a lost situation, at least not yet — but at some point, someone will have to step up and take over the race. For a team with too many pitching question marks, it’s essential this is figured out soon.

Bottom line: Don’t freak out yet, but I’m sure at some point, we will.

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