Phillies well-stocked on the mound

Tyler Cloyd could develop into a valuable long reliever/spot starter.
Tyler Cloyd could develop into a valuable long reliever/spot starter. (YONG KIM / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER)
Posted: October 11, 2012

WHEN THE PHILLIES report to spring training in 4 months, they'll be confident and borderline-cocky that they can return to the top of the National League East simply because they have the following three names on their roster:

Cole Hamels. Roy Halladay. Cliff Lee.

When they signed Hamels to a 6-year, $144 million deal in July, the Phils ensured they'd have a trio of aces atop a rotation that's been heavy on Cy Young candidates in each of the last two seasons. Starting pitching has been a strength, and should remain a strength, especially if Halladay is healthy and anywhere close to his normal self.

Even with Halladay missing nearly 2 months with a right lat injury, Phillies starters led baseball with 1,033 innings pitched, 14 1/3 more innings than the next-closest team, Cincinnati. The maturation of Kyle Kendrick helped the Phils make a second-half run and he should help solidify the bottom of the rotation in 2013.

The certainty the Phillies have in their starting five, which is likely to be filled out by Vance Worley, following minor elbow surgery, is tempered with the uncertainty on the other end of the pitching staff. Beyond closer Jonathan Papelbon, the Phils didn't have a consistent, reliable or durable arm in the relief corps.

What they did have at season's end, however, was a bullpen full of talented young arms buoyed with irreplaceable big-league experience, which brought optimism from the only vet among them.

"For me, next year if we're not the top bullpen in major league baseball, we'll definitely be the top in the National League," Papelbon said. "That's just the way I look at it."

With his bullpen ravaged by injuries early, to Jose Contreras, Mike Stutes and David Herndon, general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. made regular calls to Lehigh Valley, where the likes of Jeremy Horst, B.J. Rosenberg, Jake Diekman, Phillippe Aumont and Justin De Fratus came in and learned on the job in the major leagues.

Before the All-Star break, the inexperience showed: the Phillies' relief corps had a 4.76 ERA, ranking 15th in the 16-team league. But after the break, the same bullpen sported a 3.03 ERA.

"The No. 1 thing that impressed me," Papelbon said, "was the way they bounced back. When you're in the bullpen, if you don't know how to bounce back you'll die a slow death, and every single one of those guys was able to do that."

While Papelbon and many others in the clubhouse were impressed with the progress of the kid relievers, don't expect Amaro to go quietly into the offseason with the belief that his bullpen is finished adjusting to the big-league learning curve. It won't happen because it's the very mistake the general manager made last winter, deciding to go into 2012 relying on Stutes and Antonio Bastardo rather than adding veteran insurance.

The vets Amaro added - Chad Qualls and Dontrelle Willis - were categorical busts.

Besides adding a capable centerfielder, a top priority for Amaro and Co. should be adding a reliable, proven, late-inning reliever, someone who can both set up Papelbon and pitch in place of Papelbon when the closer is unavailable. It also couldn't hurt to add a durable veteran arm to the middle of the 'pen, a la Chad Durbin in 2008.

Since Fernando Rodney will be looking for closer money, former Phillie Ryan Madson and Mike Adams head the list of the most attractive late-inning, free-agent relievers. Jason Grilli, who was in the organization at Triple A Lehigh Valley last year, is also worth a look. Grilli, who turns 36 next month, struck out 90 batters while walking 22 in 58 2/3 innings with Pittsburgh.

But unlike the outfield, which needs wholesale changes, or the infield, which is four-fifths accounted for, if you include the catcher, the pitching staff probably needs minor tinkering as much as anything. The aforementioned starting staff is accounted for, and Aumont, Horst and De Fratus lead the youngsters who should compete for jobs to join Bastardo and Papelbon in the 'pen.

Stutes is expected to be healthy by spring training. If you add him to the mix, and Tyler Cloyd, who could transition into the new Kendrick, a long reliever/spot starter, there is no shortage of arms already in the organization. And there are others, too, who are coming through the minor league system.

In addition to having one of the best 1-2-3 punches in baseball atop their rotation, the Phils are content with the depth of capable pitching both in the major and minor leagues.

"I think we're coming into a season this year where we counted somewhere between nine possible starters coming through our system here, including guys like Worley, Cloyd, Kendrick, we have a kid named [Adam] Morgan who's made kind of a fast track," Amaro said. "We've got Ethan Martin, we've got [Jonathan] Pettibone . . . I think this is as good a position as we've ever been in with regard to young bullpen guys and young starters.

"I feel pretty comfortable. You can never have enough pitching, because I can say that today and five of them could drop off tomorrow. But the fact of the matter is, I don't think we've ever been in this position where we've had this many quality arms as close to the major leagues, and hopefully we can capitalize on that."

Amaro probably felt similar a year ago. With a majority of young and unproven arms in the 'pen and at least some concern that Father Time is catching up with Halladay, however, Amaro should adhere to his own code of "never having enough pitching."

Along with adding a setup man, it couldn't hurt to scour the market for a capable starter, too, in the event of an injury. As the Phils learned early and often in 2012, injuries happen.


Contact Ryan Lawrence at rlawrence@phillynews.com.

|
|
|
|
|