On Monday, the Phillies sent pitcher Mike Zagurski to their minor league camp, which wasn't all that amazing considering that he had gotten lit up recently and was a long shot to make the club, anyway. It was significant though to anyone playing along with the numbers game. Zagurski's exit left 14 pitchers in camp - 12 of them healthy - and brought the Phillies pitching staff into a much clearer view.
The Phillies figure to carry 12 pitchers, meaning that when Brad Lidge and J.C. Romero take their spot on the disabled list, everybody else left in camp will have a roster spot with their name written into it, barring the ever-present chance of a trade or free agent signing.
Possibly the biggest surprise among those 12 is 24 year old right-hander David Herndon, a Rule 5 pick from the Los Angeles Angels last December. When Herndon arrived in camp, he was completely on his own and somewhat lost. He used that though to energize himself and keep himself focused on the task at hand, which was being good enough to make the Phillies club out of spring training. The odds seemed very long for Herndon and there were those who even wondered why the Phillies had wasted $50,000 to take him as a Rule 5 selection. Surely, there wouldn't be room for Herndon in the Phillies bullpen, especially considering that he had never pitched at the Triple-A level and had a total of just 65 1/3 innings at Double-A.
Instead of looking at it as a lost cause, Herndon decided to make the decision tough on the Phillies and the Phillies decided to keep watching just to see what this kid who nobody knew could do as a potential piece of the Phillies bullpen. Herndon has responded with eight shutout innings in six appearances and when you look deeper, his work gets even more impressive. Opposing hitters are just 3-for-26 (.115) against him this Spring and he's gotten 4.25 groundball outs for every fly ball out, which is a fantastic number for a guy who would like to pitch at Citizen's Bank Park this season.
To watch Herndon pitch, you might not think too highly of what you see. He doesn't overpower hitters with a blazing fastball and he doesn't have a classic 12-to-6 curve or any other pitch that you can figure is destined to keep hitters off pace. Instead, he's just got the ability to locate his pitches down in the zone and work both sides of the plate. Herndon's slider personifies the term hard; he generally throws it in the low-90s, has good movement on the pitch and equally good control on the pitch. It's not a ball that is easy to hit, let alone easy to hit in the air with any great power. The slider is the main reason why Herndon gets so many groundball outs.
The truth is that the Phillies have turned Herndon into somewhat of a project. The Phillies Gulf Coast League pitching coach, Carlos Arroyo, managed Herndon in the Dominican Winter League and was able to quickly take what was a lackluster slider and make it great. Arroyo taught Herndon to stay on top of the pitch better and use the pitch as an out-pitch. The result was instead of being a riding sort of pitch, Herndon's slider took on a much sharper break and as he continued to work on the pitch, he was able to develop the pinpoint control that he needed to make the pitch work better for him. In fact, it was Arroyo who recommended that the Phillies take a look at Herndon, who was available in the Rule 5 Draft.
It is always possible that the Phillies will find another pitcher in one of many potential ways. There are always trades that can come about at this time of year, players routinely hit the waiver wire and there are even a couple of free agents hanging around looking for work. With just under two weeks until opening day, Herndon hasn't cemented his spot on the Phillies roster, but he's certainly gone a long way toward advancing his career. There is no denying that the slider that Arroyo worked on with him is much better than the one that he had as a minor league reliever with the Angels. Some sort of move is especially possible since Antonio Bastardo would be the only left-hander in the bullpen until J.C. Romero is healthy, if things were to stay the way they are right now. That's not exactly an enticing situation for the Phillies and rest assured that they'll keep an eye out for ways to correct that situation, which could jeopardize Herndon.
The possibility of bringing in another lefty doesn't guarantee that Herndon would be the odd-man-out, though. Should Jamie Moyer win the battle for the fifth spot in the rotation, Kyle Kendrick could always be optioned to Triple-A Lehigh Valley to continue to work as a starter and provide insurance, rather than stashing him in the bullpen as a long reliever. It's also possible - not probable, but possible - that Moyer himself could be the second left-hander in the bullpen, which would preserve Herndon's hold on a job. Moyer isn't happy about the prospect of pitching out of the bullpen, but he could potentially make the transition if he were to lose out to Kendrick for the spot in the rotation.
While a lot can happen in two weeks, Herndon has done an impressive job this spring of getting the Phillies - and a number of other people around baseball - to sit up and notice him. One problem with that is that if the Phillies can't find a job for him with the big league club, they would likely lose him either on a waiver claim or by having him snapped up by his former club, the Angels, as the guidelines of the Rule 5 Draft require.
David Herndon's career stats
|2007||Cedar Rapids (A)||13||8||4.02||25||0||152.1||80||68||1.280||10.3||0.6||1.2||4.9|