Sam Donnellon: Phillies should be looking for best possible pitching rotation

Posted: August 05, 2009

RUBEN AMARO likes to say that too much pitching is a good problem to have.

He's right.

But too many pitchers? That's not the same thing.

The latest mountain of evidence came in last night's 8-3 loss to the Colorado Rockies, the Phillies' fourth loss over their last five games. Jamie Moyer was charged with six runs before leaving with two men on and no one out in the sixth inning. It was the third of his last six starts in which he failed to record an out in the sixth inning. Rodrigo Lopez, in his first appearance since being demoted to the bullpen, surrendered four hits, ballooning the Rockies' lead to 8-2 at that point.

Lopez was 3-1 with a 3.62 earned run average in five starts since being recalled from Triple A, but once the Phillies traded for Cliff Lee, his lot was cast. That leaves tonight's starter J.A. Happ and Pedro Martinez vying for the final spot - unless you want to throw Moyer into the mix.

He's earned it.

Moyer still leads the team in wins (10) despite last night's loss. He also owns, by far, the highest earned run average and lowest innings-pitched total among the two other rotation mainstays, Cole Hamels and Joe Blanton.

Muddling the situation further are those alternate starts, when Moyer handcuffs teams - usually young, aggressive ones. He beat the Diamondbacks his last time out. Two starts before that, he allowed one hit over seven innings against the Marlins. Two starts before that, he allowed one run to the Rays.

Last night he allowed six hits and walked four batters, including one with bases loaded.

"I don't have an answer for you," he said, his disappointed voice barely more than a whisper. "If I had an answer for you I wouldn't be in that situation. All I can tell you is that I am working as hard as I can to try and create some consistency for myself as well as my teammates."

"I think what's going to weigh into it is what are our best options," Phillies pitching coach Rich Dubee was saying before last night's loss. "What's going to make us the best club? What's going to give us a chance to win another World Series?"

Easily said. Potentially torturous to decipher.

The candidates are equally mixed between those long on resume and short on arm strength and the precise opposite. Asked why Moyer's name doesn't come up as often as Happ's to be replaced by Martinez, Phillies manager Charlie Manuel said, "I think who he is and the fact he's won 256 games . . . He's been very important to us."

But your best chance to win right now has nothing to do with that, does it? It has nothing to do with who Martinez was when he was racking up those Cy Youngs, either. Happ is 7-2 and has allowed three runs or less in five of his six July starts. If this competition really fell under Dubee's guidelines, then how is his name even being mentioned as bullpen material?

Shouldn't this be between the guys with the long resumes?

"Cross that bridge when we come to it," said Dubee. "We're not there yet."

Martinez starts in Reading tonight. He has said he's willing to pitch in the bullpen, but his preference is to start. It's been 12 years since Moyer has worked out of the bullpen and because he often feels his way through the first inning, he would not seem to be a good middle relief candidate. But he pitched so well as a bullpen guy for Boston in 1996 - 2-0, 3.71 earned run average in 13 appearances - that the Sox returned him to the rotation in July, and made a trade deadline deal with Seattle after he went 3-0 with a 2.45 ERA over his final four July starts. Moyer was 6-2 over his final 11 starts with the Mariners that year, with a 3.31 ERA.

Would a bullpen move humiliate him? Hardly. Greg Maddux, headed to the Hall of Fame, volunteered to work out of the bullpen with the Dodgers during the postseason last year. Moyer, who came up with Maddux in the Cubs farm system, is the same kind of team guy.

Pedro? He answers the bullpen question circuitously by saying he expects to start. He also receives slightly better incentives in that role than as a reliever. But really, the Phillies owe Pedro nothing. Not a spot in the rotation, not a spot in the bullpen, not even a spot on the team. He's not their Hall of Famer. For him to displace anyone, especially Happ, he should have to earn his way.

"Once you get to a team and you sign a deal, you're an employee," Martinez said during his introduction to the Philadelphia media on July 20. "It's not what you say you are. It's what they say you are."

It says here that Martinez starts in the bullpen. It says here that it should be Moyer's spot they look to first, if they're really serious about making the Phillies as playoff-ready as possible. It's about pitching, not pitchers. J.A. Happ should have made that point by now. *

Send e-mail to

donnels@phillynews.com.

For recent columns, go to

http://go.philly.com/donnellon.

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