Starting Rotation Needs Answers to Woes

The Phillies didn't figure that they would be looking for starting pitching at this point in the season. With the trade for Eric Milton and Kevin Millwood accepting arbitration, the rotation was considered to be one of the deepest in a long time. But here we are nearing the all-star break and there's trouble on the mound.

First, any team that loses two of its starting pitchers to the disabled list is going to be in trouble. While Randy Wolf's stay on the DL wasn't very long, Vicente Padilla's stay is considerable longer.

Wolf has made three starts since his return Wolf has gone 1-1, 4.59. A strict pitch count limited Wolf to four innings in his first start back, but by his second start, he was able to go seven strong innings. Then, Tuesday night, a break down of sorts, when Wolf threw 111 pitches and lasted just 4 2/3 innings against the Mets. Even with that bad outing, it appears that Wolf is okay physically, which is good news for the Phillies.

With Padilla at least four or five weeks away from returning, you have to figure that Paul Abbott can't stay in the rotation for that long. Yes, Abbott was hurt by an error on Jimmy Rollins in his start Monday night, but he was still far from being what the Phillies need in a fifth starter. Abbott's ERA has ballooned to 6.06 and it's likely that he will get just one more start before the all-star break and could exit the rotation after that unless he throws a gem against Atlanta. The question is, who would take Abbott's spot?

Let's first rule out Gavin Floyd. The Phillies are not going to bring Floyd to the majors at this point. They insist that he's not ready and perhaps, he isn't. The bottom line is that until they say he is ready, he's not going to be in Philadelphia any time soon. Floyd made his 17th start of the season Tuesday night and got the win, moving his record to 4-5, 2.76 on the season. Perhaps one of the big things that Floyd needs to improve is his mentality. Too often, he lets bad things get to him too easily and too much. A bad call by an umpire, a bloop single, anything can make Floyd come a bit unglued on the mound and that could well be what concerns the Phillies about bringing him to the majors.

The Phillies still have Ryan Madson and Brian Powell on the major league roster. Madson was a flop in a spot start earlier this season. That doesn't mean that he couldn't go back to being a starter, but it likely means that the Phillies won't make that move. There is no question that Madson was at least a little shaken by the bad outing and it took him a little while to return to his pre-start mode. Plus, Madson has made himself too valuable in the Phillies bullpen to consider moving him back to the rotation. As for Powell, he has been spotty at best. Sometimes, like in his two innings of work against the Mets Tuesday, he looks almost unhittable. Earlier this season, a stint in the Phillies rotation wasn't exactly a success. Powell is 1-2, 4.43 this season with the Phillies and could be the next choice to step into the rotation. Powell also spent some time on the DL and hasn't started since June 20th when he threw seven strong innings against Kansas City. It's likely that Powell wouldn't be able to go very deep into games his first couple times out since it has been so long since his last start.

Josh Hancock, Ed Yarnall and Robert Ellis have all pitched well at AAA Scranton. Hancock is the only one of the three on the Phillies 40 man roster, so they would have to make room for either Yarnall or Ellis. Hancock was up earlier this season, made two starts and went 0-1, 11.57. Would the Phillies give him another shot? It's likely that they would, but he's probably not a great option at this point. Yarnall and Ellis both have solid AAA numbers, but neither is seen as a bright, shining star. Still, either of them might be given the next shot at a spot in the rotation should the Phillies decide to go that route.

Abbott isn't the only problem. Brett Myers and Kevin Millwood have both struggled. Myers started the season on a bad note and saw his ERA at 7.36 by the time April ended. The Phillies threatened to send him to AAA and he seemed to have turned things around. In his last three starts, Myers is 0-2, 10.57 and have been worse than any three game stretch that he has had this season. If not for the fact that Padilla is out of the rotation, you have to figure that Myers could again be threatened with a demotion. Needless to say, his two starts - Wednesday against the Mets and Sunday against Atlanta - are going to be huge for Myers.

Millwood has shown signs of breaking out of his slump. On the upside, Millwood has gone at least six innings in each of his last five starts, something that even Eric Milton hasn't done in his last five outings. On the downside, his ERA has moved from 4.85 to 5.07 over the span. The fact is that little can be done with Millwood. Unless the Phillies want to find a willing trade partner that would take Millwood, figuring that a change of scenery would make a difference, the Phillies will likely just have to be patient with him. Even if they could find a deal, they would need to get pitching in return to fill Millwood's spot in the rotation.

Speaking of deals, will the Phillies make a move for a starting pitcher? Word is that they're looking. Randy Johnson might be available, but it's unlikely that he would be in Phillies pinstripes. Even though Mike Lieberthal recently urged Ed Wade publicly to go after Johnson, it's not likely. First, Johnson would have to waive his no-trade clause and secondly, the Diamondbacks would likely insist on Gavin Floyd or Cole Hamels in the deal and the Phillies won't do that. The Phillies might be able to counter with Myers and Ryan Howard as starting shots, but it's not likely that gets it done. Even then, we would be back to the pesky no-trade clause and every indication is that Boston or the Yankees are the only places that Johnson would seriously consider and the Yankees appear to be his favorite option.

The Phillies might ask Montreal about Livan Hernandez. Adding Hernandez would be a nice addition to the staff, since he's a well above average starter, who gives you a lot of innings. It's likely that the Phillies and Expos will have some discussions with the Phils interest in Hernandez and outfielder Brad Wilkerson. The Expos have some pitching injuries of their own though with Tony Armas still not 100% and Tomo Ohka and Zach Day both winding up on the DL. As for Wilkerson, the Phillies are either giving a great bluff or they really do figure that Marlon Byrd can return to be their everyday center fielder, negating the need for a deal.

The most likely target is Kris Benson. The Pirates are shopping Benson and listening to all offers. The Phillies hope that they can get Pittsburgh's price down and likely won't want to include Ryan Howard in a deal for Benson and they definitely won't include Floyd or Hamels for Benson or anyone else for that matter.

What was supposed to be a solid part of the Phillies roster - starting pitching - has turned into perhaps the biggest question mark. While the Phillies are talking about needing bullpen help and might at least listen to deals that would bring them a center fielder, they also have to consider the market for starting pitchers. They also have to keep a close eye on their own potential starters from the minor leagues who could fill a spot in the rotation if they can't make a deal to fill a spot. The only other option is hope that Padilla is back sooner rather than later and that when he does return, he returns in strong form and can lift the starting rotation enough to get the Phillies to the post-season.

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