With Duckworth's Return, What Happens To Joe Roa?

With an injury to Hector Mercado, the Phillies decision on what to do when Brandon Duckworth returns from the DL may be put on hold. Sooner or later though, it's likely that they'll have to decide what to do with Joe Roa and how he may or may not fit into their future plans.

With Brandon Duckworth scheduled to make his first start of the season this Sunday the Phillies have some questions that need to be answered. 30-year-old Joe Roa was the Cinderella story of the 2002 season for the Philadelphia Phillies. After spending much of his career bouncing from one minor league farm system to another, Roa posted a 14-0 record while pitching at AAA Scranton for the Phillies affiliate, Red Barons last year. Upon being called up to the big club, Roa had a .500 season, going 4-4 with a 4.04 ERA. Roa was one of the more pleasant surprises in an otherwise dismal season for Philadelphia.

This season has been quite a different story, however. Pitching in the highly anticipated final home opener at Veterans Stadium, Roa got his season off to more than a rocky start after surrendering five quick first inning runs; including a grand slam to Pittsburgh center fielder Reggie Sanders. He lasted only two innings that afternoon. His next outing was not much better. Roa gave up four runs in seven innings, and his ERA was a whopping 12.86 after two starts, and he sported an 0-2 record for the highest scoring team in Major League Baseball.

The only highlight for Joe Roa this young season has been his 4 hit performance against the Florida Marlins. After reviewing film with pitching Coach Joe Kerrigan, and fixing the flaws in his mechanics, Roa played like a different man on the mound. It appeared that he might have finally fixed the flaws that slowed him in his previous two starts this season. This may have been his final start however.

27 year old Brandon Duckworth, once a top five prospect from the Phillies farm system has just completed his stint on the 15 day disabled list due to elbow tendentious and is ready to return to the starting lineup. For the past two seasons Duckworth has occupied one of the top five spots in the Phillies rotation and deserves to regain his job after recovering from injury. Duckworth finished the 2002 season with an 8-9 record and a 5.41 ERA, but hopes to improve on those numbers after a positive spring training campaign. He also spent time in the Phillies bullpen, after some dismal starts last year, only to regain his spot in the rotation from Terry Adams as the season wore on. This is a critical juncture in Duckworth's young career and he deserves the chance to regain his form from a stellar rookie season in 2001.

With Duckworth returning to the Phillies rotation, he is set to replace Roa in the lineup. The problem with this move is the fact that Roa is out of assignment options and if the team chooses to demote him to Scranton he would need to be placed on waivers, and another team may pick him up. The question is then, what to do with Joe Roa? The answer is simple. The Phillies bullpen has struggled in 2003, and could use a fresh arm from a veteran who has the ability to pitch everyday and can be a steady middle reliever that this team has lacked since the days of Terry Francona or Jim Fregosi roaming the dugout.

Philadelphia's relievers have struggled and Roa may just be the man to fix these woes. Once Roa solves the flaws in his mechanics he deserves the chance to hone his skills and Duckworth deserves a chance to retake his spot in the starting rotation. If he can regain the talent that led him to a 14-0 record last season in triple A, Joe Roa will be a hot commodity at the trading deadline, and could provide a valuable player to the Phillies, a team gunning for the playoffs for the first time in a decade. Bottom line, the Phillies need help in the bullpen, they need see what Duckworth can do, and they cannot lose a serviceable Major League Pitcher.

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