Phil Sheridan | Pitching woes part of familiar off-season trap

Posted: June 12, 2007

It may be that this era of unmet expectations began when the Phillies signed Jim Thome to that monster contract between the 2002 and '03 seasons. The problem is that the era didn't end when Thome was traded to the Chicago White Sox to clear Ryan Howard's path to the big leagues.

With Thome in town for a three-game series, everyone was reminiscing about the excitement generated by Thome's signing, about the temporary goodwill it created between the Phillies and their oft-disappointed fans.

But the real story was the way another season of high expectations was disintegrating right in front of our eyes.

You don't have to peer back through the mists of time to Thome and Kevin Millwood and David Bell for an example of a big off-season that produced zero postseasons. Just look at the Phillies' 2007 pitching staff.

Two closers, Tom Gordon and Brett Myers, are on the disabled list. They were joined by starter Freddy Garcia, who got discouraging medical news yesterday. An MRI exam revealed what the Phillies called "pathology of the labrum and a fraying rotator cuff," which in layman's terms is an injured shoulder.

The Phillies announced before last night's game that Kyle Kendrick, a 22-year-old with a 4-7 record, will jump from double-A Reading to start against Thome and the White Sox tomorrow.

How could this be happening again?

A year ago (you may have suppressed the memory), the Phillies won nine and lost 18 during the month of June. It was the gaping hole through which their postseason hopes leaked away.

The starting rotation, for a stretch there, included Scott Mathieson, Eude Brito and Ryan Madson. Cole Hamels was called up to end Gavin Floyd's disastrous stint in the rotation. Adam Bernero started one game, Aaron Fultz another.

From that, the Phillies learned that pitching is everything. That's why they went out and traded for Garcia, re-signed Jamie Moyer and signed Adam Eaton. Remember March, when the big question from Clearwater, Fla., was what they would do with that excess starting pitching?

Let's just say that's no longer an issue.

"We know our problem," manager Charlie Manuel said. "You don't just pull pitchers or really good position players off a tree. They're hard to find."

Garcia was suspiciously easy to find. Turns out the Phillies' medical team that rejected free-agent reliever Joe Borowski (18 saves in 20 chances for Cleveland this year) green-lighted the sore-shouldered Garcia. Granted, an MRI exam is not a crystal ball, but that still counts as an oh-fer-the-winter.

It is the actions of November and December that lead directly to June desperation and September disappointment.

"It's hard for us to run off a five- or six- or seven-game winning streak because we've been inconsistent in some departments," Manuel said. "It's kind of how our team is made up. When you say we're inconsistent, it means we have the talent, but we have to do better. And if we have holes, how are we going to fill them to get better?"

Reaching past triple A for a double-A starter may fill the hole for a night, but unless Kendrick produces some kind of Hamels-esque magic, it's not a way to get better. It's also a sign that the minor-league system isn't overflowing with big-league-ready prospects.

The reality is, help is not on the way. No one in baseball is offering first-rate pitching in a trade.

"I'd like Jonathan Papelbon," Manuel said, referring to the Red Sox star, "but that's probably asking too much. Sometimes you've got to take what you've got, piece it together and make it work."

That's what Manuel and the Phillies did last June and July, and it left them too far behind to come back and win the wild card.

That is what they're doing now, calling up Kendrick, exhuming the baseball remains of Jose Mesa, and hoping that Myers can come back as soon as possible.

When he was moved to the bullpen, Myers asked only one thing: that, barring emergency, he remain there. Manuel would like Myers to return in the closer's role. A long absence for Garcia just might count as an emergency.

Manuel was forced by desperation to move Myers to the bullpen. It would be fitting if desperation forced a move back to the rotation. That seems like a more attractive option than digging up Adam Bernero's phone number.

If this era of unmet expectations began with the Thome signing and continued with the addition of Billy Wagner and Eric Milton and Freddy Garcia, that leaves one question.

When will it end?

Contact columnist Phil Sheridan at 215-854-2844 or Read his recent work at

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