In spring training, it was Madson and Gavin Floyd who won the final two spots in the rotation, while Ryan Franklin wound up in the bullpen. That one decision may have set up the Phillies for a lot of losing. Floyd struggled horribly and was back at AAA before too long and he's still inconsistent at that level. Franklin never did take to the role of reliever and wound up being designated for assignment. Madson hung around the longest, getting the longest shot of the three, but he's now back in the bullpen and doesn't figure to see another start unless an injury or trade would blur the scene. In fact, manager Charlie Manuel hinted that he believes Madson's future is in the bullpen and that the young right-hander could eventually wind up as a closer.
The truth is that Madson's curveball just doesn't have the consistency that he needs to get major league hitters out. As a reliever, he can get by without it, but as a starter, the only times that he flourished were when his curve was working and working well.
Instead of laboring with Madson's 6.28 ERA as a starter, the Phillies are hoping to see more of the Ryan Madson that has posted a 3.97 ERA in six relief appearances this season.
The big winner in all of this is Scott Mathieson, who started the year at AA Reading. After a short audition early in the season and eventually pitching well for AAA Scranton Wilkes-Barre, Mathieson came back to the Phillies this week when they needed someone to fill a temporary spot in the rotation created by the exit of Cory Lidle. Mathieson pitched well and earned his first big league win in the opening game of the series against St. Louis. With that on his resume, the Phillies are writing him into the rotation with permanent marker for the rest of the season. The Phillies believe that just as Cole Hamels has settled in, Mathieson will do the same and the quicker the better. If all goes well, the Phillies will have Hamels and Mathieson as definite parts of their 2007 starting rotation.
While Mathieson didn't appear ready at the beginning of the season, he's made great strides. He's shown poise on the mound and deserves the shot that he's getting. Being told that good or bad, he's in the rotation should help to ease the feeling that every pitch must be perfect or he's back at AAA. It's somewhat ironic that the Phillies plug Mathieson into the rotation now, just as their sweep of the Cardinals pulls them firmly into the wild card race. With Hamels, Mathieson and the return of Randy Wolf, a full sixty-percent of the rotation is either young or coming off a major injury. Not exactly the combination you want for a pennant race, but then again, Pat Gillick has said that even the 2007 Phillies don't figure to win, so what have they got to lose?
Odds are that Madson will again blossom in the bullpen. The ironic thing is that if he and his agent - the lovable Scott Boras - figure that despite his numbers, he deserves a chance to start, he won't likely stick around Philly once he qualifies for free agency after the 2009 season. Of course, a lot can happen between now and then. Who knows, by 2009, we could be talking about Ryan Madson's ability to close games for the Phillies.