Roster Microscope: The Starting Rotation

The starting rotation was supposed to be all set coming into camp. Of course, pitching never seems to cooperate and a couple of concerns coming into camp have reared their ugly heads to become full-blown issues. That means that the Phillies starting rotation may not be as set as anyone would like and there could be some changes coming to the rotation between now and April 4th.

Let's start with what we know. Jon Lieber, Randy Wolf and Cory Lidle are there and set. Wolf and Lidle have not had great springs, but they're both veteran pitchers and you have to figure that they can turn things around. They've both also had some strong moments in between the bad, so there's not too much concern there. Wolf is healthy and that was the only true question mark on him. Lidle will likely have eaten a bunch of innings when all is said and done for the 2005 season. He won't be a Cy Young candidate, but he should be steady and will turn in decent numbers in his first full season in Philadelphia. Lieber has looked strong. His ERA stands at an even 3.00 and many around the club like what he's shown and even his former team, the Yankees, have bemoaned the fact that they let him get away.

We also know that the concerns about Vicente Padilla's health and Brett Myers consistency are pretty legitimate.

Padilla figures to start the season on the DL and should stay there for at least a couple of trips through the rotation. Gavin Floyd was quickly plugged into Padilla's spot and Floyd has looked good. The Phillies insist that they would like to have him spend a good part of the season at Scranton, but things change and it's likely he'll head north with the club and could possibly even just slide into the second spot in the rotation where Padilla was supposed to be.

When Myers got lit up for 11 hits in 3.1 innings the other day, he insisted that he was just working on his fastball. The fact that 55 of the 72 pitches that he threw were fastballs would seem to back up that claim, but the fact is that he hasn't been overly impressive this spring. Early on, the reports were that he was throwing well, but those reports are long gone. There is legitimate concern over Floyd and the Phillies are starting to explore what they could do if Myers were to struggle into the season. The excuses will have to disappear over Myers' last two spring starts and he'll need to show something to turn around the negative reports. Even then, he will enter the season as a question mark and concern on the pitching staff.

What happens if Myers doesn't turn things around? Well, if Padilla comes back healthy quickly enough, he could take over in Myers' spot and Floyd could stay in the rotation. The real question is what happens if Padilla isn't healthy and Myers continues to struggle? That's where it gets interesting.

Have you noticed that Ryan Madson has thrown six innings over his last two appearances. In his last outing, he threw four innings, although those four innings resulted in just 45 pitches. Pitching coach Rich Dubee believes in getting his pitchers a lot of work in the spring. He wants his pitchers to have pretty high pitch counts and wants his starters to hit the 100 pitch mark in at least one spring game, possibly in two. He also believes that relievers need to be conditioned to throw more than just one inning at a time. Consider Madson on an accelerated program.

Madson was a starter all through his minor league career. He was supposed to be stepping into the Phillies' starting rotation either last season or this season. He had a great spring last year, but there was no room in the rotation, so he was moved to the pen. He adjusted well and had a stellar season. The only real blemish was in a start that he made against the Chicago White Sox. It wasn't pretty, but it didn't deter Madson and he rebounded quickly. If the Phillies were to need more than Gavin Floyd to join the rotation to fill a hole, Madson could be next in line. He could also be in line if the Phillies truly do want Floyd at AAA and don't want him in the majors for an extended stretch. If that's the case, then Madson and Floyd could actually be in somewhat of a competition for Padilla's spot.

Consider that if Madson continues on the escalating pitch count that he's been on, he wouldn't be too far away from that magical 100 pitch mark by the end of spring training. That would mean a couple of starts and he would be at full speed. Brett Myers should be watching Madson very closely, because he could be inserted into the rotation without much trouble. Extending Madson at least gives the Phillies options to explore if there are any further injuries or if any of the starters falters horribly. If they don't need Madson in the rotation, he's well stretched out to work out of the bullpen to start the season and could eat up innings if needed. He could also be pitcher 5A in the scheme of things. In other words, he could be figured to be needed to clean up Myers' mess if things don't improve there.

If not Madson, who? Are there others who could step into the starting rotation? It's likely that Mike Bacsik will open the season in Scranton's starting rotation. The Phillies like what they've seen of Bacsik, but consider him to be a starter much more than they do a reliever. Clay Condrey is another candidate for the AAA rotation and possibly a major league stint if needed. The Phillies were impressed with Condrey's start in a split squad game this past week and he has looked good this spring. Condrey has pitched in the majors and was a pretty good prospect in the Padres organization before he hit a wall during the 2003 season. He hasn't returned to form since, but observers believe he's throwing just about as well this spring as he did in 2002 when he went 1-2, 1.69 for San Diego. Pedro Liriano was at one time a candidate, but the Phillies will likely have him pitching in relief. He hasn't been counted out for a spot in the major league bullpen if everything breaks his way. Keep in mind that if Madson were to move to the pen, there would potentially be room for someone else in the bullpen.

That brings up an interesting point. What do the Phillies do with Myers if he's not effective? They could ship him back to AAA or they could officially give up on him and send him elsewhere. Many believe it's too early to give up on Myers, but there is no doubt that the Phillies are concerned about his consistency and there are also concerns about his attitude and approach to the game.

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