Durbin hopes he is able to shake off slow start

Posted: April 12, 2013

IN ORDER for the Phillies to keep pace with Atlanta and Washington in the next 6 months, they will need something that has largely been absent in the first 10 days of the season: consistent, quality starting pitching.

But since no pitching staff's starting rotation provides seven innings on a daily basis, the Phils will need something else, too: reliable middle relief.

In the last two games it wasn't necessary, thanks to another brilliant effort from Cliff Lee and an ugly but gutsy performance from Kyle Kendrick. But those performances have been the exception in the first nine games of the season.

A dependable middle reliever or two have been MIA in 2013.

Two weeks before spring training began, Chad Durbin signed a 1-year, $1.1 million deal to return to the place he had the most success in his career and to be that guy. But through his first four games of the season - and spring training, too - Durbin has failed to impress.

And unlike All-Star veterans Charlie Manuel has been loyal to in the past and present - Brad Lidge and Roy Halladay come to mind - middle relievers such as Durbin are easier to replace and aren't normally given as much time to get right. See: Romero, J.C., and Qualls, Chad.

"We kind of know what Durbin can do, but, at the same time, we'll see what happens and how it goes," manager Charlie Manuel said. "That's part of the game. You have to hold your own; you have to keep your position and your job."

Durbin hasn't been alone. Although they combined for four shutout innings on Monday, lefthanders Jeremy Horst and Raul Valdes also struggled in the season's first week.

The difference is that Durbin, 35, has a longer major league track record. And it's a track record that reveals that this isn't the first time he's come out of the gate slow.

After being cut by Washington and signing on with the Braves at the start of 2012, Durbin had a 9.00 ERA in his first 10 games. He allowed eight runs on 14 hits in eight innings, with opponents sporting a 1.101 OPS against him.

Two years ago in Cleveland, Durbin had an 8.38 ERA over his first 10 games. He allowed nine runs on 13 hits and six walks, with an opponents' OPS of .921.

But the good news for Manuel and Co. is Durbin also survived each of those rough patches and thrived shortly afterward. In 2011, he allowed one earned run in his first eight games in May; after the first month of 2012, Durbin didn't allow a run in 21 of his next 23 appearances.

Durbin, who has a 4.96 ERA in 14 major league seasons, has a career ERA of 6.33 in March and April.

"I've thought about it," Durbin said of the trend. "Almost every spring has been survival mode. You have to get through it to make the team. And then you go out there and you continue to go at that rate of survival, and it's not survival mode anymore. There's something to be said for that. I don't throw 95 and I need reps to feel [strong].

"If I'm going to play for a couple more years, getting on the mound or in a bullpen maybe 2 or 3 days in a row before the first game of the year might be the best thing. Kind of like the way Tom Glavine's first innings were traditionally awful, and then he would [be fine]. He tried to throw a lot early, he tried throwing less, he tried throwing everything and it just was what it was."

If the pattern continues, the Phillies should get what they wanted when they signed Durbin: a dependable veteran in an otherwise young front end of the bullpen.

But what they'll need for the duration of the season is a reliable bridge from the starters to the back-end bullpen trio of Antonio Bastardo, Mike Adams and Jonathan Papelbon. Durbin hasn't been that yet, with the most glaring stat the amount of inherited runners he's allowed to score in his first four outings.

Durbin has inherited seven baserunners this season. All seven have scored.

"It's the ABC's of baseball," pitching coach Rich Dubee said. "He's not commanding stuff."

In his most recent outing, Monday against the New York Mets, Durbin took the ball from Roy Halladay with runners on the corners, one out and the Phils trailing 5-1. Although both baserunners came around to score - on what Durbin called a "bloop," two-out single - he was encouraged.

"I threw the ball a helluva lot better [Monday]," Durbin said. "It's hard to run into those situations and stay smooth or do the things that you can work on. You get in those situations and you just have to trust that it's going to do what it's going to do. If you get mechanical, you're going to get [expletive deleted] mentally. You can't do that.

"I was more calm [on Monday]. When you get into those situations, you want so badly not to give up your teammates' runs that you get to the point where every pitch is the most important pitch you're going to throw all day and you start to, mechanically, tear your head off the ball and it flattens out. There's no depth, no angle and no deception. And hitters will let you know that."

The numbers will let you know, too, even if they don't tell the entire story.

In his first tour of duty with the Phillies, from 2008 to 2010, Durbin didn't allow 100 percent of inherited runners to score, of course. He allowed 28.16 percent of them to score.

Among the 121 relievers who appeared in at least 120 games in that same time span, Durbin was pretty much in the middle of the pack: 65 pitchers allowed a higher percent of inherited runners to score. In 2012, Durbin allowed 25 percent of inherited runners to score in 61 innings.

Durbin and the Phillies can only hope that history will repeat itself in 2013, with another slow start followed by a longer period of reliability.

On Twitter: @ryanlawrence21

Blog: Philly.com/HighCheese

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