Phils Eye Mercado's Future As Starter

The Phillies definitely have a few question marks on their pitching staff. Joe Roa has all but disappeared, Eric Junge keeps shuttling between Scranton and Philadelphia, Brandon Duckworth has struggled and there are rumors of an injury to Vicente Padilla. Another big question mark is Hector Mercado and exactly what role he should play on the Phillies pitching staff, if any.

"We just want to explore all of the options," said a member of the Phillies front office staff in talking about the future of Hector Mercado. One of the options is to have the young left-hander convert to being a starter. That option might make him more valuable not just to the Phillies, but to teams that are potential trade partners for the Phillies, too.

Technically, Mercado is still on a rehab assignment. He is out of options, so the Phillies can't just keep him in the minors indefinitely. The time is coming when they will have to take a step toward deciding what they want to do with Mercado.

Brandon Duckworth has struggled and lasted just five and two-third innings in a 96 pitch outing for Scranton on Sunday. The Phillies are frustrated by the high pitch counts that Duckworth constantly racks up. His inability to put away hitters when he gets them down in the count is a major concern to pitching coach Joe Kerrigan. Having Mercado take over Duckworth's job in the major league rotation has been discussed. Since the Phillies won't need a fifth starter again until Saturday in Houston, either Mercado or Duckworth could get that start. Duckworth also has options left and could be kept at AAA, while Mercado can't.

Another potential scenario might have been playing out on the Veterans Stadium mound Sunday afternoon. Vicente Padilla again struggled and has been giving up a lot of walks, which is very unusual for Padilla. In his last 21 innings, Padilla has walked 12. Whispers of a sore arm and potential trip to the DL have been swirling and getting louder. That would mean that perhaps, both Duckworth and Mercado could have major league starting jobs.

In his last outing at Scranton, Mercado went four innings and allowed two earned runs on two hits. Unfortunately, it was just weak enough for Mercado to be saddled with the loss, but the Phillies thought he pitched well in the outing. Whether or not he pitched well enough to warrant a major league starting job or not is still up in the air.

The Phillies will spend some time analyzing their options between now and Saturday when they need a fifth starter. Duckworth and Mercado are likely to be even money favorites to get the start, with Eric Junge and Joe Roa being much longer shots to getting the nod.

There reportedly are some teams interested in talking to the Phillies about Mercado and other prospects. The Phillies are poised to listen and could potentially make a move, perhaps, even in the near future.

For now, nothing is written in ink, let alone stone when it comes to the Phillies rotation. Don't be surprised though if there are some changes coming in the near future.


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