CD's Connect the Dots... Whispers In The Wind

Shhhhhhh...hush…so you can hear the whispers. They are not like the poundings of the surf, nor the banging of a drum. Not even akin to the quiet murmurings of a mother singing her infant to sleep. They are silent subtleties... but they are there…can you hear them?…tilt your head closer, just like that…here they come again…ah, subtle whispers in the wind…

The Phillies have begun a restrained preparation for the days when they will no longer have the services of one Kevin Millwood as their ace in waiting pitcher. One need not look any further than the announced starter for Wednesday night's game against the Rockies from Colorado. It will be number five starter, Brandon Duckworth.

Oh, he deserves the opportunity to pitch; after all, it is his turn and his stellar performance last week against the Dodgers proves his mettle. But Wednesday night is usually Millwood's night, as he has been on a strict "pitch every fifth day" rotation all year, and he last pitched on Friday night. Who said this? None other than Manager Larry Bowa. Who stamped his approval on it? Kevin himself, did! Millwood made it clear back in May how much he appreciated the treatment he was receiving in Philadelphia and how he liked the fact that as the "acknowledged" staff ace, he would pitch every fifth day, come rain or shine. And so it has been…..

Ironically, the person most affected by this was Duckworth, who, as starter number five, often either was skipped a turn, or was bumped back a day or two. That Millwood will now pitch on Thursday instead of Wednesday is certainly no conspiracy. It won't even register a blip on the radar screen. But this writer believes that the Phils are beginning to realize that their chance of keeping Millwood beyond this season is more fleeting every single day, and that Duckworth will be a valuable member of the staff next year. I suspect this is why Bowa and Pitching Coach Joe Kerrigan were emphatic at the trading deadline of their faith in Duckworth, a faith that is now reaping rewards.

When did these subtle whispers start and how might we evaluate them? How will this affect the Phils chances of attaining their goal of winning the wild card birth? Will this seeming plight cause a rift too large to repair between the Phils and Millwood? Lets take each question to its seeming natural conclusion.

General Manager Ed Wade understood the risks involved when he acquired Millwood back on December 21, 2002. As a pending free agent, Millwood could merely be passing through Philadelphia on his way to perceived untold riches. Given the fact that his agent, Scott Boras, plays the free agent game as well as any agent in the business, Wade understood the cards he had been dealt. Nevertheless, he has made it clear since Day One that his goal was to get Millwood to sign a long term contract with the Phillies and Millwood indicated that he might be interested.

During the early months of the season, things were going smoothly for Millwood. He was winning regularly, pitched a no-hitter against the San Francisco Giants, and was treated as royalty. He mentioned on several occasions that, a) he was enjoying his stay in Philly, b) liked the status of being the ace of the staff, and, c) values the professional perks that came with this status.

One of those perks was pitching every fifth day. Wade continued to believe that these things would all tip the scales in his direction and when Millwood made overtures about a contract extension, the Phillies made their interest crystal clear. For his part, Boras was equally clear that he did not favor negotiations during the season as he viewed them as a "distraction".

After much back and forth, it was decided that contract talks would take place during the All-Star break, a full three days. Phillie faithful had to be feeling optimistic for several reasons. First reason, and this outweighs them all, Millwood made subtle comments in Spring Training about how he "liked the way Scott Rolen did it", referencing to Rolen's signing with the Cards before the playoffs last season, as a good way to ease distractions. This had to mean that Millwood was not averse to signing during the season.

Then, an unforeseen event occurred. Millwood went into a mini-slump just as the Phils began to play better. When he finally emerged from it with a win in Baltimore, he announced the cancellation of the All-Star negotiations. There was neither rancor in his voice nor any indication of unhappiness. Wade accepted it publicly with class and understanding.

However, this writer believes that for the first time Wade began to have professional doubts about his ability to keep Millwood past this season. Please understand one thing...the relationship between Millwood and his Phillies mates has been nothing but ship shape! He is a professional in every sense of the word and fits the Phils like a glove. His careful nurturing of a relationship with pitchers Randy Wolf and Brett Myers has helped both of them to reach their potential.

Professional baseball is a microcosm of life. Decision makers are constantly balancing the desires of today with the necessities of tomorrow. A win today at the expense of several losses in the future is not worth the risk. Is the going up today worth the coming down tomorrow? Of this are decisions made and the Phils are in the process of making one with Duckworth.

It is one of those professional ironies that in keeping Millwood on schedule as befits an ace, it was often impeding on the development of Duckworth. For if pitching regularly is important to Millwood, why should it be any less important to Duckworth? Here is where the desires of today often takes place over the necessities of tomorrow. Keeping Millwood on schedule allowed him to flourish and kept him happy, which made the Phils seemingly healthy, wealthy and wise. But the cost to the development of Duckworth has been obvious.....Kerrigan indicated as much when he discussed Duckworth's light workload. A pitcher must pitch to do well, and Duckworth wasn't pitching regularly.... with noticeable results.

As if on cue, a Duckworth pitching on his regular schedule threw an A game at the Dodgers last week and the Phils once again had a reliable five-man rotation. So if we are to assess the silent whispers as an acknowledgement that the Phils are no longer as confident in retaining the services of Millwood, where does that leave them now.

Ahh, here is where the whispers are even more subtle, but no less telling. Listen closely and you begin to hear Randy Wolf and "Staff Ace", muttered in the same sentence. Indeed, Wolf was allowed to complete a 137-pitch shutout in Chicago a few weeks ago, an honor only an Ace-In-Waiting is given. And listen even more quietly and you begin to hear the words Brett Myers and Future Number One hurler, whispered. Subtle whispers.... indeed! Significant?... perhaps.

The final question, as yet unanswered, is how this will impact the Phillies Race for the Chase, as in wild card chase? Will Millwood notice this delicate shift in preferred treatment and feel slighted? Probably not...in fact, he may welcome the extra rest. After all, these are the Dog Days of August, when every player's courage is certainly tested.

Will it affect the Phillies chances of pulling a rabbit out of a hat in the form of a five year-65 million-dollar deal? Again, unlikely. For it is this writer's opinion that those decisions have already been made and if you care to know what those decisions are.... listen, ever closely, to the subtle whispers of the wind. They will tell you all that you need to know… hush…..softly now.......

Columnist's Note: Suggestions, questions and comments welcome. Please send them to connectthedots@earthlink.net and I will respond! CD


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