John Smallwood: Phillies' pitching plans found to be flawed

Posted: May 05, 2010

NOBODY IS SAYING Ruben Amaro Jr. should be "Carnac the Magnificent."

Still, when the Phillies' general manager was asked last night about his team's tenuous pitching thus far, his response was far too simple.

"You wish your pitching was a little better, but when you have this kind of injury . . . We're out two-fifths of our rotation," said Amaro, referring to Joe Blanton and J.A. Happ. "That makes it tough.

"Like I've said before, you can't plan for every injury, and we've had a couple of them. It's not an excuse. It's just part of the game."

It's a good thing that's not an excuse, because some would say that having foresight is one of the primary jobs the general manager of a championship-caliber team should display.

I agree that Amaro could not have anticipated that Blanton, a guy who never had been on the disabled list in his career, would not make his first start until Monday any more than he could have anticipated that reliever Ryan Madson would put himself on the DL by breaking a toe when he kicked a chair after blowing a save on April 28.

Amaro, however, had to know that the quality of the starting rotation could be a source of concern.

It was for just about everyone else.

Not to beat a horse that's already ridden out of town, but that's one of the reasons folks asked why not Roy Halladay and Cliff Lee instead of the multiplayer deal that brought Halladay to Philadelphia while simultaneously shipping Lee to Seattle.

I understand Amaro's logic about restocking the minor league system after emptying it to trade for Lee last summer and then Halladay in the offseason.

Major league baseball is more of a business than a sport, and there is something to be said for having a really good team that will play in front of sellout crowds for 5 years as opposed to having a great team for one or two seasons and then becoming mediocre.

But everyone knew that using Lee as the mechanism to set up the future would create a huge series of "ifs" concerning the Phillies' pitching for the 2010 season.

You knew what you were going to have if had you started your rotation with two former Cy Young Award winners in Halladay and Lee.

The Phillies took the gambler's route.

If Cole Hamels bounced back from his dreadful 2009 season and regained the form he flashed in 2008, you'd have a great No. 2 to follow Halladay.

If Blanton, 63-55 with a 4.22 ERA, pitched to his career numbers or slightly better and you could stretch another season out of Jamie Moyer's 47-year-old arm, the middle of your rotation would be respectable.

If Happ proved to be the real deal after his stellar rookie season, the rotation would be anchored.

If free-agent relievers Danys Baez and Jose Contreras were dependable and J.C. Romero came back strong from injury and closer Brad Lidge's disastrous 2009 was an aberration, the bullpen would be able to get the job done.

A lot of those "ifs'' aren't happening right now, and when you add injury - which, contrary to Amaro's assessment, can be taken into consideration - you get the inconsistency that is currently the nature of the Phillies' pitching staff - Halladay excluded, of course.

"We've talked about the fact that we didn't have a whole lot of pitching depth and that hurts us," Amaro said. "You can't plan for all the things that happen, but we were short in pitching depth, and we're going to have to deal with it."

What no one could have anticipated was the "Only in Philadelphia Scenario" that was the climax of last night's 2-1, 10-inning victory over St. Louis.

Hamels, whose .500 record perfectly represents his up-and-down nature, was pitching brilliantly. With a 1-0 lead, he was in the process of throwing his first pitch of the ninth inning when some idiot decided to prove how stupid some Philadelphia fans can be. This guy ran onto the field the night after a teenage stooge got Tasered by a police officer in leftfield for doing the same thing.

The crowd at Citizens Bank Park yelled "Taser him," realizing the untimely distraction he had caused to Hamels' flow.

Back-to-back doubles by David Freese and Yadier Molina tied the score and sent Hamels to the dugout in favor of Lidge, who looked like Lidge of 2008 by closing out the inning with no further damage.

Contreras pitched a scoreless 10th, and then catcher Carlos Ruiz ended it in the bottom of the inning with a leadoff home run.

Not even Carnac saw that coming.

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