Phils taking long look at Hollands

Posted: March 12, 2014

CLEARWATER, Fla. - In other years, Mario Hollands might not be here right now, sitting in a mostly vacant Bright House Field clubhouse as the Phillies put the finishing touches on a Grapefruit League loss to the Braves.

Three years ago, the rotation went seven deep: Halladay, Lee, Oswalt, Hamels, Blanton, Kendrick, Worley, all with major league experience. Blanton went down, and in stepped Kendrick. Oswalt hit the disabled list and was replaced by Worley. In 2012, they went six deep. Even last year, throughout most of the Grapefruit League schedule, the Phillies carried six healthy pitchers who each had at least 100 major league starts (Halladay, Lee, Hamels, Kendrick, John Lannan and Aaron Cook).

This year, you may have heard, things are a bit murky. Jonathan Pettibone has yet to appear in a Grapefruit League game. Ethan Martin is trying to shake some shoulder soreness. Miguel Alfredo Gonzalez has been erratic. Chad Gaudin was cut the first day of practice. As of today, Hollands appears to have a better shot than any of them at making the Phillies' Opening Day roster.

"I'm just trying to stay on the carpet as long as I can," the 25-year-old lefty said with a nod to the plush clubhouse that he still calls home.

Chances are, Hollands will be back in the spartan confines of minor league spring training on Opening Day. Even if Pettibone is not healthy by the time the Phillies need a fifth starter in the middle of April, they have a pair of more experienced options in righties Sean O'Sullivan and Jeff Manship, both veteran nonroster invitees who started big-league games last season, along with 24-year-old David Buchanan, who finished last season at Triple A. At the same time, Hollands did throw 2 1/3 innings against the Braves yesterday, and the Phillies do seem to want to take a look at him in a longer role than he had been afforded in his first three outings. And, really, the team isn't in a position to make decisions based on anything other than merit.

At the very least, Hollands has emerged as one of the more intriguing players in camp, thanks to the effectiveness he has displayed combined with the anonymity with which he entered camp. A 10th-round draft pick in 2010 out of the University of California-Santa Barbara, the 6-5 southpaw has not enjoyed the most linear trip through the minor league system. After spending all of 2011 at Lakewood, he saw time at all four levels of affiliated ball in 2012, making two starts and seven relief appearances for Lakewood, five starts and one relief appearance for Clearwater, eight starts and one relief appearance for Reading, and three starts for Lehigh Valley. By May of last season, he was back down in Class A, making 10 starts and four relief appearances for Clearwater, where he posted a 1.56 ERA and impressive peripherals (7.9 K/9, 1.6 BB/9, 0.3 HR/9) before earning a promotion to Reading.

Against the Braves yesterday, Hollands allowed a two-run home run to Dan Uggla on a fastball up in the zone and a double to Gerald Laird on a hanging changeup, but otherwise acquitted himself well. In the fifth inning, he stuck out Jason Heyward and got B.J. Upton to ground out, then allowed two men to reach base before striking out Ryan Doumit to end the frame. His final line: 2 1/3 innings, three hits, two walks, two strikeouts, one run (the other was charged to Cliff Lee).

"He's getting lengthened out as we go," manager Ryne Sandberg said. "He was one pitch away from having a good outing today. He had a hard time putting some guys away with an out pitch, but if you take away one pitch, a two-run home run, he's still throwing the ball well. We're looking at him in a lengthened-out scenario right now."

That Hollands followed Lee yesterday was fitting, because he says he attempts to emulate the veteran's approach to pitching.

"He's a good person to follow with everything," Hollands said, "from pace, to pounding the strike zone, everything: the way he works before the game, off days. I've been in his group since the beginning of spring, so I've spent a lot of time with him. Listening to him is a big help."

Hollands does not have the kind of strikeout stuff that immediately captures your attention, but his fastball sits in the 90-92 mph range and is aided by the deception in his delivery. Even if the Phillies weren't searching for somebody to fill in for Hamels as he works his way back from a case of biceps tendinitis, Hollands would have opened some eyes this camp. Because of their depth problems, those eyes will probably be on him longer than usual.

On Twitter: @ByDavidMurphy


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