No panic zone

Posted: March 26, 2013

CLEARWATER, Fla. - I like panic as much as the next guy. Practically get anxiety attacks anytime the gas gauge dips below the halfway point.

But you're going to have to wait for me on Roy Halladay. I don't see the 2013 Phillies season as half-empty yet. Especially when I look at how the other questions surrounding this spring training have played out.

Mike Adams has allowed a run in six appearances. After a bumpy first two appearances, Jonathan Papelbon has allowed one hit over his last five, including Sunday's ever-so-brief stint against his old team at Bright House Field. Michael Stutes and Jeremy Horst combined to pitch from the seventh to the ninth innings in the 7-6 loss to Boston, and if not for some shoddy defense, those innings would have been scoreless, too.

Chase Utley hit his fourth home run of the spring and third in 2 days. Ryan Howard followed with a blast over the centerfield wall, bringing the Phillies all the way back from an early, 6-0 deficit rolled up against Cliff Lee. Last season, Howard and Utley played together for the first time on July 6 when the Phillies were 11 games under .500. They finished at .500.

"I want to put up a zero no matter what," Lee said. "But it definitely is more fun when you're pitching with a lead, no doubt about it. It allows everyone to relax and go out there and let the game come to you. When you're playing in a tie game or from behind, you tend to press a little more or put more pressure on yourself."

Lee said he felt "strong" and dismissed the runs he allowed as irrelevant. "Got in trouble with too many fastballs and cutters," he said. "Thought things started to improve when I used my changeup and curveball more. Definitely two pitches I need to throw more and get more comfortable with."

The day before, Halladay also pronounced himself "ready" despite getting roughed up by Toronto minor leaguers. He has allowed 14 hits, 10 runs and walked seven the last time three times he has taken the hill. And yet there is no talk of medical examinations or fatigue, just about looking for a few more mph on his fastball.

And no one seems too worried about Lee's 5.94 earned run average this spring.

A year ago, facing the prospect of re-signing Hamels in-season and having doled out all that money to Papelbon, Phillies general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. gambled that the 2011 performances of Antonio Bastardo and Stutes would be repeated and that Chad Qualls, one of the game's most durable and consistent middle relievers prior to 2010, would be that again. He was dead-armed wrong.

This time Amaro did not fool himself into believing the improved second-half numbers his bullpen produced. Michael Schwimer is now a Blue Jay, Qualls is a Marlin. B.J. Rosenberg and Joe Savery were sent down early in camp. Josh Lindblom, part of the deal that brought Michael Young to the Phillies, in December, has been knocked around in his first spring with Texas.

In their place are Chad Durbin, Bastardo and Adams, and the three survivors of an arms playoff involving Stutes, Horst, Phillippe Aumont and Raul Valdes.

Durbin pitched in 76 games for the Braves last year and had a 3.10 earned run average. Over the last five seasons, he has averaged - averaged - 65 appearances. More fit-looking than when he pitched here from 2008-2010, he is nonetheless 35.

Adams will turn 35 in July. At 2 years, $13 million, he's an expensive bet, but the payoff is potentially lucrative. Only the Astros recorded a worse earned run average in the eighth inning last season than the Phillies. Teams hit 24 home runs against Phillies pitching that inning, and the unseasoned collection of kids and castaways with whom Charlie Manuel tried to stitch his way to the ninth inning issued 80 walks.

"If you can get a lead to guys with the track record that says they're going to get the job done, or get them a tie game, then it's a difference of about seven or eight, maybe even 10 games a year," Durbin said.

Halladay's ERA jumped from 2.35 in 2011 to 4.49 last year. It does not seem to be a reach to think he could split that difference just by staying healthy in 2013, especially if he is not asked to pitch into the eighth inning as often as in the past. If Lee and Hamels come even close to their expected numbers and Halladay allows between three and four runs every nine innings pitched, that would seem, with this lineup, to be solid enough to hold a lead or at least keep them close entering the last third of most games.

That's enough to keep me from driving off a cliff. For now anyway. And if I can keep my eyes on the road and my hands upon the wheel, maybe you can, too.


On Twitter: @samdonnellon



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