Connect The Dots: A Tale Of Two Pitchers

In this installment of <i>Connect The Dots</i>, there's a comparison of two young pitchers at different points in their careers. How the future will play out is anybody's guess, but the Phillies hope that Brandon Duckworth, Taylor Buchholz and the cast of young pitching characters they've assembled will be worth the wait.

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.

I am sure Charles Dickens didn't have two prize Phillies right-handers in mind when he wrote his wonderful novel over 100 years ago, but he easily could have! He could have been talking about Brandon Duckworth and Taylor Buchholtz, aka Ducky and Bucky, similar in more areas than just the sounds of their nicknames. For on their respective right arms rides much of the hopes of both the present and the future of the Philadelphia Phillies. These two righties, along with other youngsters like Gavin Floyd, Keith Bucktrot, Ryan Madson, Bud Smith, Cole Hamels and Zack Segovia represent the hopes and dreams of future successes, even pennants and possible World Series appearaces.

There are many similarities between our friends Ducky and Bucky. Both are right-handed, with crackling fastballs and dipsy doodle curve balls. Both have had great success in the minor leagues, each with a Pitcher of the Year Award, Duckworth as International league Pitcher of the Year in 2001 and Buchholtz being accorded Pitcher of the Year status last year in the FSL. Both have been mentioned as key players in trade talks, and both suffered from minor elbow problems this spring. And, both were making their giant "its time to make my move" starting assignments Sunday with Duckworth pitching for the Phillies against the Braves, and Buchholtz pitching for the AA Reading Phillies, far removed from the pressures of the big leagues.

The similarities ended though. Both started games for their respective teams Sunday and ironically, saw the same 7-0 score on the scoreboard in the third inning although both were on very different paths.

For Taylor Buchholtz, it was the best of times. His arm no longer a concern, he was in solid form, and with the help of unaccustomed offensive support from players like Jorge Padilla and Jeff Inglin he rode an early 7-0 lead to a strong five innings, recording four strikeouts and an 11-6 win. It was just his first step, but Buchholtz has shown in his still young career that once he gets it, he gets it.

After starting 1-10 at Lakewood two years ago, the mind finally caught up with the arm, and he finished with eight wins in the last two months of the season. Last year, after a slow 0-2 start, he rode a 10-4 finish to win Pitcher of the Year honors in Clearwater. He is on the fast track, and if he continues to progress, don't be surprised to see him in Philly sometime during the inaugural season of the Phillies new ballpark. Whether he will be joined by Duckworth is a tough question to ponder.

Despite Duckworth's talent and the fact that he won three games in the 2001 pressure cooker that was the pennant race between the Phillies and Braves, he is not really all that young, and age is the great equalizer in sport. At 27, Duckworth is a man in a hurry. The difference between prospect and suspect is a much thinner line at 27 than it is at 21. The Phillies, a team that views themselves as a pennant contender, can ill afford the luxury of too much patience with a 27 year old hurler of inescapable ability, but maddening inconsistency. Ducky understood all of that as he stood on the mound at Turner Field Sunday.....and left two innings later trailing the Braves 7-0, in what would be an eventual 8-1 loss.

For Duckworth, it was the worst of times. The man who must get ahead to stay ahead continued with his preplexing inability to throw a strike to start the count, and he paid the price. He was gone after retiring only four batters and his next start is in doubt.

While one pitcher looked forward to his next start, confident in his ability to be successful and win, the other could only look at the lack of success he had on the very same day, and wonder if time was slipping away. For one, the future looks clear and sharp. For the other, the future is filled with clouds and fog. At least for now, in this tale of two pitchers, Bucky and was the best of times, it was the worst of times.

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