Phillies have potential comeback kids

The Phillies are looking to defend their first World Series Championship in 28 years and a few players looking to have comeback type seasons could go a long way toward helping in that defense.

Spring training always provides for at least a couple of interesting story lines and this spring is no different in Clearwater. One theme is the number of players who could use a comeback in their career.

Possibly the biggest comeback is one that appears to already be headed in the right direction. Kyle Kendrick, who burst onto the scene in 2007 as a surprise filler in the starting rotation, appears to be back. After imploding in 2008 and being left off the playoff roster, Kendrick spent a lot of time working in the Florida Instructional League and just doing his own work. Much of the work focused on making changes in how he throws his sinker and improving his change-up. The work on the change-up went especially well and Phillies pitching coach Rich Dubee is impressed with Kendrick's development.

"For me, he's the leading guy going in for the fifth starter," Dubee told a gathering of reporters in Clearwater.

Kendrick's competition comes in the form of veteran Chan Ho Park and youngsters Carlos Carrasco and J.A. Happ. Carrasco is seen as the top prospect in the organization, but could also take advantage of a little more seasoning at Triple-A. Happ, who helped the Phillies down the stretch last season, would give the team three left-handers in their rotation. Meanwhile, in recent seasons, Park has done his best work out of the bullpen, although he prefers to return to pitching out of the rotation.

Then, there's Adam Eaton. While the Phillies have stopped short of completely giving up on Eaton, GM Ruben Amaro has said that he wouldn't be in the hunt for the fifth spot in the rotation. Then, the Phillies shopped him around to other teams, asking for almost anything in return and with the bonus of the Phillies retaining as much of Eaton's guaranteed $9 million contract that any potential trading partner wanted them to eat; still, no takers.

Eaton has said that he won't accept another assignment to the minors as he did last season, so the Phillies may wind up just releasing him if he doesn't show anything that would even warrant having him pitch out of the bullpen. It's a lot of money to eat, but could turn out to be the right move for the Phillies to make.

There's also some comeback material behind the plate. Newcomer Ronny Paulino had a horrible 2008 season with Pittsburgh after suffering a sprained ankle that cost him a month on the DL and then losing his job to Ryan Doumit. Paulino hit just .212 in 40 games with the Pirates last season, but bounced back with a .315 season in the Dominican Winter League. While it's a cliche, Paulino is reporting to camp in the best shape of his career.

For Chris Coste, who could be challenged for his job by Paulino, his entire career has seemed like a comeback. Coste had the lowest average of his major league career last season, hitting .263, but he also set a career-high with nine home runs. It's most likely that success by Paulino could force Coste out of a job and potentially into a deal to the Baltimore Orioles, who have attempted to acquire him from the Phillies over the winter. Or, Coste could turn out to be the right-handed bat off the bench that the Phillies have been looking for this offseason, considering that he could potentially play at third, first and in the outfield if needed.

Even Carlos Ruiz, who the Phillies insist is embedded as their starting catcher, could use a bit of a comeback after hitting just .219 last season. Of course, Ruiz offers solid defense and has the trust of the Phillies pitching staff and manager Charlie Manuel, who have credited him with how he calls and handles games.

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