Kyle Kendrick, John Lannan must produce at back of Phillies' rotation

Phillies ace Roy Halladay throwing in Clearwater, Fla., on Monday. The righthander is recovering from a shoulder injury.
Phillies ace Roy Halladay throwing in Clearwater, Fla., on Monday. The righthander is recovering from a shoulder injury. (YONG KIM / Staff Photographer)
Posted: February 13, 2013

CLEARWATER, Fla. - There may be no joint more watched in baseball this spring than Roy Halladay's right shoulder, and for good reason. It is Halladay, the two-time Cy Young Award winner and quintessential ace, who could control these Phillies' fate.

Then again, he is but one-fifth of the rotation, and will start 33 games at most. About 60 starts could come from the tandem of Kyle Kendrick and John Lannan, two pitchers who did not begin 2012 in a major-league rotation.

The focus is not nearly as intense on those two as Phillies pitchers and catchers officially report Tuesday. The first official workout is Wednesday. Halladay is scheduled to address reporters then and will dominate the conversation.

These are not the days of Four Aces, when a made-for-TV news conference inaugurated spring training in 2011. There is uncertainty at both the top and the bottom of the rotation.

Last spring, the Phillies downplayed scouts' observations of a troubled ace. Halladay later succumbed to a strained muscle and made fewer than 30 starts for the first time in seven seasons.

Kendrick and Lannan were both bumped from their traditional roles last spring. The Phillies were committed to Joe Blanton as their fifth starter. In Washington, a stacked rotation banished Lannan to triple-A Syracuse. The Nationals paid him $5 million to make 24 starts there as an insurance policy.

Lannan is not guaranteed a job, but the Phillies have earmarked $2.5 million for his services. He is similar to Kendrick in that both do not heavily rely on the strikeout as a weapon.

Kendrick, though, made tremendous strides in the final six weeks of 2012. He ditched a cutter that was used too often as a crutch and instead threw his change-up more than ever. It was a pitch, used 25 percent of the time, that proved valuable.

His final 10 starts, which generated a 2.43 ERA and seven Phillies wins, essentially guaranteed him a rotation spot heading into spring training for the first time since 2008. With an increased strikeout rate, Kendrick was not always at luck's mercy.

Kendrick or Lannan will have to equal the production lost from Vance Worley's departure. Worley, who was traded to Minnesota in the Ben Revere deal, made 44 starts in the last two seasons and posted a 3.60 ERA while averaging 5.9 innings per start. In the same span, Kendrick averaged 5.7 innings per start and Lannan 5.6.

A tentative back of the rotation probably played into the team's decision to fortify the bullpen, which failed in 2012. Now the Phillies' bullpen is strong on paper as 2013 begins. The headline addition, Mike Adams, must demonstrate his health early in camp. Adams is recovering from surgery to remove a rib that caused thoracic outlet syndrome.

The Phillies were spoiled by the Four Aces. If Halladay is healthy, they will gladly settle for three. Cole Hamels is entering his prime and Cliff Lee had a stellar 2012 masked by a low win total.

It's up to Kendrick or Lannan to bring stability to the back end.

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Papelbon stopped using painkiller when he joined Phils. D5.

Contact Matt Gelb at Follow on Twitter @magelb.

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