Clock is ticking for some Phillies pitchers

The Phillies manager Charlie Manuel bows his head as the Phillies honor fallen Philadelphia firefighter Capt. Michael Goodwin before the start of Sunday's game. The Phillies lost to the Royals 9-8 at Citizens Bank Park in Philadelphia, Pa. on April 7, 2013. (David Maialetti / Staff Photographer)
The Phillies manager Charlie Manuel bows his head as the Phillies honor fallen Philadelphia firefighter Capt. Michael Goodwin before the start of Sunday's game. The Phillies lost to the Royals 9-8 at Citizens Bank Park in Philadelphia, Pa. on April 7, 2013. (David Maialetti / Staff Photographer)
Posted: April 09, 2013

It's early until it isn't. For a baseball team, there is a fine line between maintaining perspective and complacently allowing things to slip away.

The Phillies have to watch that line very closely this year, especially when it comes to their pitching - particularly the bullpen.

A week in, there are legitimate questions about the bullpen, and the outfield defense, and the lack of power. But the real question, after two lost series, is just what the Phillies accomplished during their seven weeks in Clearwater, Fla.

Spring training was extended a bit because of the World Baseball Classic. There are plenty of folks, hitters especially, who think it's too long to begin with. The traditional six-week prep period was designed primarily to allow starting pitchers to build strength, command their pitches, and get ready to go seven or eight innings.

Cliff Lee got his work done. John Lannan showed up looking like he knew what he was doing. Mike Adams and Jonathan Papelbon appear to be prepared for the start of the major-league season.

Cole Hamels got a mulligan for his rough opening-night start. It was cold. He was facing the very tough Atlanta Braves. He was probably a little overhyped for his first opener.

CC Sabathia had a bad opener. He came back Sunday and pitched a shutout for the Yankees. Hamels, who is now in CC's pay grade, came out and got hammered by the Kansas City Royals. Sunny day, mediocre opponent, worse result. He is one-third of the way to his 2012 total of six losses.

It's early, it's early.

Hamels blew a 4-0 lead, then left with runners on second and third, two out in the sixth. Chad Durbin, who allowed runs in each of his first two appearances, walked his first batter and gave up a two-run single to the second.

"That's kind of his spot," manager Charlie Manuel said. "Durbin's been known to be kind of a slow starter. So is Horst."

That would be Jeremy Horst, who gave up three runs and got one out in the home opener. On Sunday, he got three outs and gave up one run. It was the run that made it 9-4, the run that made the Phillies' ninth-inning rally a run too short.

Manuel said lefty Raul Valdes was unavailable.

"He threw too many pitches," Manuel said.

That's because it requires a lot of pitches to give up six earned runs in 32/3 innings in two appearances. Valdes had two days off because he wore himself out getting worn out by the Royals on Friday night.

See the pattern here?

"We were pitching what we have," Manuel said. "That's who we have right now."

The Phillies have little choice but to believe that Hamels, Lee, and Roy Halladay will pitch like $20 million-plus-salary guys. They need Papelbon to be the closer and Adams to repeat his success.

What they can't do is let a handful of spare-part relievers continue to work themselves into dubious shape while the season slow-drips away.

That doesn't mean you pack all of these guys in a crate and ship them to North Korea. But it does mean the clock is ticking. The Phillies sent relievers Michael Stutes, Justin De Fratus, Jake Diekman, and Joe Savery to the minors. Ruben Amaro Jr. needs to keep a shuttle running between Philadelphia and Lehigh Valley until somebody proves he can handle these jobs.

Last year, Chad Qualls was the veteran righthander in the bullpen. He hung around until July 1, allowing opponents to hit .302 with seven home runs in 311/3 innings. Qualls also allowed 60 percent of his inherited runners to score.

The Phillies were 36-44 while waiting around for Qualls to put it together. Their record after that, 45-37, had more to do with the return of Ryan Howard and Chase Utley, but a few more early wins couldn't have hurt.

If the Phillies miss the playoffs by two or three or four games, the ones in April are going to count as much as the ones in September.

So it's early, but that doesn't mean Amaro shouldn't be aggressive about addressing problems instead of passively waiting. Because it's early and then, all of a sudden, it's too late.


Contact Phil Sheridan at psheridan@phillynews.com. Follow @Sheridanscribe on Twitter.

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