Replacing Padilla: Now and In The Future

Officially, the Phillies still believe that Vicente Padilla will start Saturday against Boston. Privately though, they have to consider how to replace him if he can't go and how to replace him long-term if he can't turn around his season.

Originally, Vicente Padilla was supposed to pitch Tuesday. Then he was bumped to Wednesday. Then Padilla was pushed back to at least Saturday because of an inflamed neck muscle.

Padilla (3-6, 6.23 ERA in 10 starts) has been the undisputed weak link in the Phils' rotation. To cover for his absence, the Phils moved Robinson Tejeda up in the rotation to start Wednesday's game against the Mets. Cory Lidle moved up to start Thursday afternoon and Jon Lieber starts the series opener Friday night against the Red Sox.

The Phils are hoping (at least that's what they say publicly) that Padilla will be ready to start Saturday's game. If Padilla can't go, then they will have to come up with another option - and there aren't many good ones out there. Gavin Floyd and Pedro Liriano are scuffling at AAA Scranton Wilkes-Barre, and the Red Barons don't have a starter with an ERA under four.

Then there's LHP Cole Hamels.

After watching their top pick in the 2002 draft pitch impressively in spring training in 2003, the Phils believed he could be in their rotation at some point in 2005. Those hopes were dashed when elbow tendinitis limited him to four starts last season.

His progress was delayed even more when he broke his pitching hand in an altercation outside a Clearwater, Florida nightclub this offseason. That caused the 21-year-old to miss the first 2 1/2 months of this season.

However, when Hamels is able to take the mound, he has been dominating. Hamels made his first start of the season Tuesday night for Class A Clearwater (the Phils intended to start him off in Double-A Reading before he broke his hand), and he didn't allow a hit in five innings and struck out eight hitters in the 74-pitch gem.

While Hamels certainly isn't a candidate to fill in for Padilla this weekend, manager Charlie Manuel wouldn't discount the possibility that Hamels could become an option down the road.

"I can't say today that he would have a good chance," Manuel said. "But that doesn't mean that he might not be here, either."

"I know he's going to be a big-league pitcher. I think the key is that he needs to pitch and get to the higher levels. He has to get to Double-A and Triple-A."

In 22 minor league starts entering Tuesday he was 7-3 with a 1.31 ERA. He allowed just 71 hits in 117 innings and struck out 171 hitters. That equates to a Billy Wagner-esque 14.15 strikeouts per nine innings.

What makes Hamels an intriguing name is the fact that Wolf's injury has turned the Phillies' rotation into a southpaw-free zone.

Just some long-term food for thought.

The most likely immediate option for a Padilla replacement would be Amaury Telemaco. The Phillies have purposely held Telemaco out of games to have him ready to pitch if Padilla either can't go or struggles early in his Saturday start against Boston.

Brett Myers started on Tuesday, but his pitch count wasn't huge, so he could potentially return on three days rest to take Padilla's spot in the rotation for Saturday. Myers was supposed to pitch on Sunday, but Tejeda could potentially also pitch on three days rest to take Myers spot in the rotation. With an off day on Monday, the Phillies could then get their rotation back on course from there. Myers had his worst outing of the season Tuesday, allowing six runs and 10 hits in 3 1/3 innings against the Mets. In all fairness though, Myers didn't find out until Sunday that he was being pushed up a day because of Padilla's sore neck.

Another potential option for down the road, is if reliever Tim Worrell can return to form and take over for Ryan Madson in the Phillies' bullpen. That would allow Madson to work his way into the starting rotation, where it's rumored that he will eventually wind up anyway. With the injury to Wolf and the Phillies needing a long-term replacement there and the continuing struggles of Padilla, Madson figures to have a shot at the rotation. If the Phillies don't move him out of the bullpen this season, it figures that he would come to spring training next season looking for a starting nod. For now though, the Phillies have to consider whether Madson would be more valuable to them in the rotation or simply handling his setup role which he has dominated in since making the Phillies staff out of spring training last season.

As for potential trades, Barry Zito, Mark Redman, Kip Wells, Ted Lilly and Jason Schmidt are all dangling out there for teams to pursue. The Phillies would likely have to give one of their premium prospects – Gavin Floyd, Cole Hamels or Ryan Howard – to get a top flight starting pitcher. General manager Ed Wade has repeatedly said that while none of those players are untouchable, he would have to be overwhelmed to include them in a deal.

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