Solving The Number Five Starter Dilemna

With Kyle Kendrick struggling, the Phillies are faced with an important question of what to do with their fifth starter's spot. How about this...?

Before we get to the solution, let's take a look at the problem.

One: Kyle Kendrick is facing a slump and has struggled for a while on the mound. That's not to say that he isn't a good pitcher or that he deserves to be run out of town, he's just wearing out at an unfortunate time. It's also likely that some of the hitters in the league have figured him out and he'll have to make some adjustments to regain the upper hand. Remember, this is a kid who put himself a full year ahead of schedule when he made his major league debut last season.

Two: Adam Eaton is a lost cause. Unlike Kendrick, Eaton has struggled so miserably, that you have to consider his long-term future with the club and possibly, in baseball. A trip to the minors did absolutely nothing for him and it's likely best that the Phillies simply shut him down for the final weeks of the season and deal with the issue over the winter. Somehow, you have to figure that at some point, they'll have to open real wide and swallow $9.0 million in one big bite. Ouch!

Three: J.A. Happ showed some promise early in the season and there were cries for him to stick in the rotation, but the Phillies decided against that and sent him back to Triple-A Lehigh Valley at the All-Star Break. While he would normally be a very viable option to step in for Kendrick - if taking that step is necessary - he hasn't started a game since August 26th for Lehigh Valley and he lasted only 1.2 innings before getting hit around. He's pitched a total of 4.1 innings over the past two weeks and has likely lost a little of his edge. He came on to relieve Kendrick against the Marlins and wasn't too impressive, most likely, a combination of some rust and his unfamiliarity with relieving.

So, here's where we get to the solution for this thing.

Start Kyle Kendrick on Sunday as your fifth starter, but let him know that he's not going to be out there for too long. The intent is for him to give the Phillies just four innings of work; that's it. After four innings he's done. Kendrick is a young, tired pitcher who needs a smaller mission right now and if the Phillies can condition him to just make it through four innings, they can handle things from there.

In the fifth, Happ comes on in relief. This way, Happ can prepare for his outing much like he would a regular start. While he won't know the exact time that he'll be throwing his first pitch as he would for a start at home, he will be able to gauge when he will need to start preparing for the start. He can take his time going through any pre-game rituals, can stroll out to the bullpen between innings whenever he would like and exit from the bullpen in time to pitch the top of the fifth inning. From that point, he'll know that he only has to give three or four innings and he'll be in a slightly more familiar routine than he would simply working as a regular reliever.

Should Kendrick struggle before the fourth, you don't go to Happ early. He will pitch starting in the fifth inning and not before. With extra arms on the roster, the Phillies could conceivably go to the bullpen early if needed and then look for Happ to go long.

This is not a perfect solution. In a perfect world, Kendrick would be able to solve any issues that he's having or find a wonder-drug that ends pitcher's slumps and he would rebound quite nicely. For now though, just look to get out of him what he can give you.

This idea would prevent Brett Myers from having to pitch on three days rest, something that he hasn't done since late in the 2004 season and did on just that one occasion. It is also a very temporary thing; the Phillies will only need Kendrick's spot on two more occasions this season. Without the disruption to the rotation that moving Myers ahead could cause, the Phillies would still have Myers, Jamie Moyer and Cole Hamels set for the final series of the season against Washington if the division or wild card race is still undecided. Plus, Kendrick (or Happ) could conceivably come on in long relief for Joe Blanton if he struggles in his final start of the season on September 24th against Atlanta and both would also be available for that final series against the Nationals.

Another advantage of the idea is that Kendrick is a righty and Happ is a lefty. So, Milwaukee and Florida - the two teams that Kendrick and Happ would have to face - can't stack their lineup to face either one, because they'll have to deal with both.

Yes, it's an obvious limp toward the finish line, but it's better than expecting long, quality starts out of Kendrick, Happ or Eaton, none of which are likely to have enough gas left in the tank to fulfill those expectations. So, let them limp and have some help along the way.

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