With one week down in Clearwater, we can begin to shed the preliminaries from our skin. The tune-up games have waned away, and now the Phillies will start looking hard at the major battles for 25-man roster spots. As early as the Spring is (and we have to remind ourselves this), a few concerns have begun to appear from the fresh Florida grass.
The big concern still has to be the bullpen. While the only injury of the Spring so far, Brad Lidge’s knee ailment was probably the one injury nobody wanted. Though Lidge and doctors are very optimistic, and Lidge looks to be slated for a pre-Opening Day return, you can’t help but question the stability of the Phillies relief corps. Behind Lidge is Tom Gordon, who won’t completely strike fear in opposing hitters anymore. And behind him is JC Romero, who I’m convinced shouldn’t be facing right-handed hitters. Ryan Madson â€” if one outing means anything â€” looks at least competent to handle the seventh inning, but one sure thing out of four? No thanks.
Of those competing for the final bullpen spots, nothing sticks out (I’ll get to Travis Blackley in a moment). Shane Youman’s control is suspect if best, while Fabio Castro still doesn’t look ready for primetime. Vic Darensbourg, 38, could very well emerge as the dark horse LOOGY, which can’t be the optimum plan. From the right side, Lincoln Holdzkom doesn’t seem to show the legs to be held onto the 25-man roster all season. I can’t see him making the club anyway. Francisco Rosario has a shot. Chad Durbin and JD Durbin may cancel each other out and allow Kris Benson to slide in without even throwing a pitch. None of the prospects outside of JA Happ should make the team â€” no matter how well Carlos Carrasco pitches, he must start the year in the Minor Leagues.
But the other Rule V pick, Travis Blackley, has been a pleasant shock to many so far. Baseball America’s No. 63 prospect in 2004, he’s thrown six scoreless innings so far and seems to be the lead man in most pitching races. As a lefthander, he could sneak into the LOOGY race, but I think that’s wasting a pitcher with considerable stamina and multiple pitches. He carries two fastballs, a devastating changeup and a slider. And I found this article from 2004 where Blackley was referred to as … here it comes … the next Jamie Moyer.
Yes, the comparison came because Blackley and Moyer both throw changeups, aren’t hard throwers and are lefties. And they were both Mariners at the same time. That helped. But put in perspective the comparison to the Wise Old Man, and suddenly, there’s real potential for Blackley to shine in Philadelphia. Cole Hamels has cited Moyer as a reliable instructor and veteran voice helping him as a young lefty; while I’m not in Clearwater, something tells me Moyer may be showing Blackley a thing or two. I mean, if Blackley is so much like Moyer, wouldn’t you think they’d have some sort of interaction?
That bodes tremendously well for the Phillies. While Blackley hasn’t had anything resembling Major League numbers since 2004, under the right tutelage and with just enough of the right stuff, there’s no reason to think he couldn’t pitch every sixth day, and with quality.
Blackley’s strengths are perfect for the Phillies and Citizens Bank Park. In his first Spring performance, he struck out two while making four ground out. And ground out pitchers with the ability to strike out a guy once in a while are at a premium in Philadelphia.
I really hope Blackley pans out over the next few weeks and the Phils decide to add him to the 25-man roster. He may start out as the LOOGY, or in a general mop-up/middle relief role. But at some point, he may likely get a crack at the starting rotation. It’s becoming more possible, from my vantage point, that Blackley could be starting some big games toward the end of the 2008 season.