Top of the Phillies' rotation talented and durable

Posted: February 15, 2012

A PERSON WHO skirts through the sports section with only a quick glimpse of the headlines might come to think of baseball season as little more than a 6-month series of strains, sprains and broken bones. To chronicle a team is to become well-versed in all of the above, as Phillies fans have no doubt realized given lengthy stays on the disabled list by stars like Jimmy Rollins, Chase Utley, and, for the upcoming season, Ryan Howard.

So it might sound strange to use the word fortunate in reference to the group of players who will gather in Clearwater, Fla., on Sunday for the first official workout of the spring. But the one area in which the Phillies have been able to avoid significant injury over the last several seasons is at the top of their rotation. And that trend likely will have to continue if they hope to avoid a serious challenge to their National League East dominance in 2012.

While last year's fabled rotation of four Cy Young-caliber starters might not have delivered a World Series, it did enable the Phillies to sustain two significant injuries without much of a hiccup. On another team, the loss of 33 starts from Joe Blanton and Roy Oswalt easily could have doomed any hopes of a playoff berth, let alone a title. But 682 1/3 innings of sub-3.00 ERA pitching from the top three starters in the rotation will go a long way toward alleviating the loss of your No. 4 and No. 5 starters.

This year, barring a late change of heart by the Phillies, Oswalt will be gone, apparently destined for a 1-year contract with some other organization. The front office hopes that Blanton has surmounted the elbow issues that cost him all but eight starts and three relief appearances in 2011. But they are also hoping that 24-year-old righthander Vance Worley does not suffer a significant regression from a stellar rookie campaign in which he posted a 3.01 ERA and averaged 8.1 strikeouts and 3.1 walks per nine innings in 131 2/3 innings.

There is a reason that Ruben Amaro Jr. deemed $3.59 million a reasonable price to pay to retain righthander Kyle Kendrick, who logged 15 starts and a 3.14 ERA while filling in for Oswalt, who missed nine starts with a back injury, and Blanton, who missed most of the season with an elbow injury. While it is impossible to predict injuries, every general manager is well aware that an unforeseen breakdown is always lurking around the corner.

While scientific studies on the effect of long-term wear-and-tear on significant pitching injuries are hard to come by, it is worth mentioning that over the last four seasons, Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee and Cole Hamels rank first, sixth and 12th in the majors in innings pitched. During that time frame, only 22 starters have averaged at least 200 innings per season. The Phillies and Angels both lead the majors with three of those players on their rosters. The Yankees, Giants and Brewers each have two. No other major league team has more than one.

In 2009, the Phillies had four starters log at least 160 innings. Same goes for 2010. Last year, they had three. Only four other teams in the majors have had at least 11 starters log that many innings in a season over the last 3 years: Tampa Bay, San Francisco, Milwaukee and Detroit. Those teams have combined for seven playoff appearances during that span.

A significant injury to Halladay, Lee or Hamels certainly would not preclude hopes of a championship. One only need look to last season's Cardinals, who won a World Series after losing Cy Young candidate Adam Wainwright in spring training, for hope. Amaro has not allowed his star-studded acquisitions to limit his rotation's depth. In addition to Kendrick, the Phillies have veteran righthanders Dave Bush and Joel Pineiro in camp on minor league contracts. If you are looking for an under-the-radar possibility, keep an eye on righthanderAustin Hyatt in spring training. While the scouting reports do not necessarily match the production he has shown while working his way up through the minors, the same can be said of many pitchers who have gone on to perform well when called upon. Included in that bunch are Kendrick and Worley.


For more Phillies coverage and opinion, read David Murphy's blog, High Cheese, at www.philly.com/HighCheese. Follow him on Twitter at

http://twitter.com/High

Cheese.

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