A Look At The Patchwork Pitching Staff

I have the unfortunate job of informing you, the Phillies fan, that there’s a good chance your 2008 Phillies will show up at Citizens Bank Park to play the Washington Nationals March 31 with … with … Shane Youman.

Or someone like that.

It seems the Phils have a hard time getting to a good 25-man roster. Last year, they had about 21 of 25. This year, it’s probably more like … well, it’s 21 again.

Here is the heavy 21 (if they all make it out alive): Ruiz, Coste, Howard, Utley, Dobbs, Helms, Rollins, Bruntlett, Burrell, Victorino, Jenkins, Werth, Taguchi, Hamels, Myers, Kendrick, Moyer, Lidge, Gordon, Romero, Madson.

That means four spots are up for grabs, and look — all the spots are pitching spots! How not obvious! Of course, these spots could be filled some other way between now and March 31, but for the sake of prediction, I’m going to run through the candidates for the final four right now. All these pitchers are going to Spring Training:

Joe Bisenius: The 25-year-old righty reliever walked two and gave up two hits with the Phillies in 2007. He also struck out three. He struggled in Ottawa, but seems ripe for the MLB call. I’d take my chances on him as a 6th inning guy, easing him into the ‘pen rotation if he succeeds.

Travis Blackley: At 25, the Rule V pick will either get on the club or leave the organization. Plus, he’d have to stay on board all year if the Phils would want to keep him. The Phils don’t necessarily need a left-handed starter, so he would need a lights-out Clearwater stint to even be considered.

Carlos Carrasco: The No. 1 prospect projects somewhere between a No. 2 and 3 starter, but don’t expect him to be that guy in March. He struggled a little when joining Reading, so a few more games in AA won’t hurt. I’d like to see him in limited September action in Philadelphia, ready for a call-up around mid-2009.

Fabio Castro: The young lefty was fast-tracked to the Majors, and 2007 showed to be a result of that fast-tracking, as he stumbled a bit. He’s a hell of a strikeout pitcher (32 K in 44 MLB innings, better in the Minors), so he should have an inside track at the LOOGY spot. With a strong spring, I wouldn’t mind seeing him there in April.

Ron Chiavacci: The career Minor Leaguer was impressive in AAA Toledo last year (12-6, 3.39 ERA, 126 K), but at 30, he would need a hell of a Spring to be considered the fifth starter over the Major League vet Adam Eaton. He could slip on the club as the mop-up reliever, and in that race, he should be considered a top challenger.

Clay Condrey: He isn’t a bad mop-up guy, but then again, mop-up guys are supposed to be kind of bad, and to be “not bad” at it isn’t quite cutting it overall, now is it? Last year he was a frequent flier on Air Canada, notching 27 innings for Philly and Ottawa and putting up a 5.00+ ERA with the big club. I’d like a new direction at mop-up man, but consider Condrey the slight favorite, as he’s the incumbent.

Vic Darensbourg: Who now? Picture Condrey, but five years older. Darensbourg was good with Toledo last year (6-2, 1.72 ERA, 42 K), but how good can a career frequent flier be at 37? He could prove valuable as a left-handed alternative to Condrey, but as Vic is a non-roster invitee, I can’t picture the Vic-House in pinstripes to start the year.

Chad Durbin: Making his Major League debut in 1998, Durbin isn’t a stranger to this game. He’s spent every year since then on a Major League 25-man roster at some point; last year, he spent the whole year with Detroit, notching a 4.72 ERA. That makes him the fifth best pitcher on the 2007 Phillies (I didn’t research that, but I bet I’m really close). He’ll be Eaton’s main competition, and could easily grab the mop-up role if Eaton is healthy and good enough to go. I’d pencil him onto my roster.

JD Durbin: If this guy can start 10 games for the division champion Phillies, anything is possible. Durbin is an outside candidate for the mop-up role, as his 5.15 ERA and relatively cheap price will make him a tough draw for fifth starter. At 26, he’s still just young enough to spend the beginning of the year in Allentown without denting his growth. Of course, he may be finished growing. I say he spends the majority of 2008 as an Iron Pig.

Adam Eaton: Because he’s worth $8MM next year, Eaton is the favorite for fifth starter. He’ll likely have a spot on the big club — if he’s healthy. As of right now, nobody’s sure. He’ll need to show he’s healthy both physically and mentally to prove he’s worth the ball every five days. If he’s the least bit unhealthy, I DL the guy until he’s ready.

John Ennis: Colorado-born John Wayne Ennis (yes, that’s right) had a small light and sweet with the Phils last year, and if we’re lucky, that’s what he won’t have this year. He pitched well last year in Ottawa, but that’s where he fits — Ennis seems destined to be a career AAA starter. He’s just not good enough; I’d rather have Condrey or Darensbourg, to be honest.

Anderson Garcia: The other Andy Garcia, at 27, is a lot like Ennis, although his numbers in AAA are worse. This makes Garcia an unattractive option for the March 31 opener. Let’s move on.

JA Happ: With one rough breaking-in start against the Mets under his belt, Happ remains the prospect closest to smelling Big League grass for good. But with his latest injury concerns and spotty play in AAA, I can’t see Happ as completely ready to start the year with the Phillies. He’s joining Jason Jaramillo and Bisenius in Rookie Development Camp, so that’s a small sign he’s on the short list of guys jumping up immediately. I’d like to see him, with success, joining the club as a trial mop-up guy in May or June.

Lincoln Holdzkom: The former Red Sox prospect was gobbled up by the Phils in the Rule V, and while he has more promise than Blackley, it would a stretch to assume he’ll be on the big-league roster all season, avoiding release. Can you stash a guy like Holdzkom as the 25th man? Only if he’s worthy of being the sixth inning guy; he’ll compete heavy with Bisenius.

Gary Knotts: Only some past Major League experience and a strong 21 innings in Reading last year has him in Spring Training this year. To me, he’s one of the last guys to be considered for an open spot.

Scott Mathieson: A real wild card, Mathieson has recovered from Tommy John surgery and is considered a favorite for one of the final four spots. I agree, and I think he should be given the best chance to play sixth inning guy. The 24-year-old has been talked about as a closer candidate; while I don’t know if he has closer stuff, he’s definitely a possibility to become the everyday setup man by August (I forsee another Gordon breakdown).

Just check out these numbers from his 2006 stint with the Phils (37.1 IP):

1st PA against batter: 75 PA, .238 AVG, .283 OBP, .286 SLG, 14 K

2nd PA against batter: 70 PA, .377 AVG, .441 OBP, .754 SLG, 11 K

What a difference, huh? Mathieson seems poised to be a top-of-the-line setup guy, and in 2008, the role of Madson’s doppleganger will work just fine.

Brian Mazone: The former Independent League star has made a nice transition to the Minors (and Japan), but at 31, can he sustain a role in the Majors? As nice as his story could be, I can’t see him up with the big club, especially as a non-roster invitee.

Joshua Outman: One of the club’s top prospects, Outman is right below Happ in the organizational depth chart, since he’s without the Major League experience. The 23-year-old is really in the same boat as Carrasco, having some transition troubles in Reading. He’s been talked about as a possibility for Allentown to start 2008, but I’d almost rather see him start a few games in AA before moving up. A September call-up for good is possible, as well, but for the opening day roster, he’s not quite ready yet.

Francisco Rosario: Though I’m not a fan of his mugshot, he wasn’t totally bad last year. An 8.54 K/9 is good, though his 5.47 ERA isn’t. The righty should be battling with Bisenius and Mathieson for a spot, but he’s fighting a tough battle.

Joe Savery: The first-round pick from last year isn’t ready for a stint in the majors; his time in Clearwater is merely for some tuning. Expect him at the earliest in mid-2009.

Shane Youman: Sub-par Shane. He had a good season with Pittsburgh in 2006, then stumbled last year without a clear-cut role. He’ll be tried out as a LOOGY with the Phillies, challenging Castro and Zagurski. He may be the early favorite because of his veteran status. I’d be careful.

Mike Zagurski: He munched through the Minors last year, and though that might seem impressive, he’s 25 this year, which puts him closer to being a has-been. Castro may have the upper end because of his potential, but if Zagurski can keep his hit totals down in the Spring, he could win out for the LOOGY job.

So if everyone performs at the same level during the Spring, let’s say (which will never happen, but we need a variable), who are the four that win my spots?

Fifth starter
1. Adam Eaton. If — and only if — he’s healthy.
2. Chad Durbin.
3. JD Durbin.

Mop-up reliever
1. Chad Durbin. He could prove to be good in spot starts.
2. Clay Condrey.
3. Ron Chiavacci.

Right-handed sixth inning option
1. Scott Mathieson. Set-up man of the future.
2. Joe Bisenius.
3. Francisco Rosario.

Left-handed one-out guy
1. Fabio Castro. Has potential to be a good set-up man.
2. Mike Zagurski.
3. Shane Youman.

Hamels/Myers/Kendrick/Moyer/Eaton … Lidge/Gordon/Romero/Madson/Mathieson/Castro/Durbin. Is this a good group? You be the judge.

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