Farm Feeding Helps Phils Fight Injury Bug

Good teams need to be able to battle through injuries throughout the season. In the case of the Phillies, they've had plenty of injuries and have done well to find suitable replacements that have helped them stay on top in the National League East.

For being this early in the season, the Phillies have had to overcome their share of injuries. Pitchers J.A. Happ, Brad Lidge and Ryan Madson are joined by infielder Jimmy Rollins and catcher Brian Schneider on the current Phillies disabled list. For Lidge, it's his second stint on the DL this season, Happ and Madson are both going to miss considerable time with Happ out until sometime next month and Madson not likely to return before the all-star break. Schneider will likely return next week when he's eligible to come off the DL and Rollins could be activated literally at any time. To start the season, pitcher J.C. Romero was also on the DL and Joe Blanton has also spent some time off the active roster earlier in the season. Then, throw in Carlos Ruiz missing time because of a calf strain and Juan Castro out with a hamstring injury, and things start to get really nuts when you look at the games missed because of injury for the 2010 Phillies.

Covering those injuries has had to come from the Phillies minor league system, which has funneled a number of players to the Phillies throughout the early part of the season.

Kyle Kendrick, a home-grown product, made the Phillies club when Blanton went down with an injury just as the club was about to break camp. Kendrick had battled veteran Jamie Moyer all spring long, but dropping Moyer, who also had a good spring, from the roster wasn't likely to happen. As it has played out, the Phillies didn't need to make a choice between the two thanks to Blanton's injury. The decision was pushed back even further when Happ went on the DL and Nelson Figueroa stepped in until Blanton returned. Now, Figueroa has returned to the bullpen - yes, he is still on the Phillies roster - while Roy Halladay, Cole Hamels, Blanton, Moyer and Kendrick hold down the starting rotation.

Figueroa was claimed late in camp after being cut loose by the New York Mets and has pitched in just six games for the Phillies and hasn't stepped to the mound in a game since May 3. Originally in the Phillies organization, Figueroa has bounced around the majors and minors with limited success. It's sort of interesting that Charlie Manuel insists on keeping 12 pitchers on his staff right now, since Figueroa hasn't been needed very much and there are a number of walking wounded among the position players on the roster.

When Romero was out to start the year, it was Antonio Bastardo who took his roster spot as a left-handed specialist in the pen. Bastardo has gone back-and-forth between Philadelphia and Lehigh Valley a few times this season and is currently on the Philadelphia leg of his tour thanks to Lidge's latest injury issues, namely, right elbow inflammation. Bastardo should likely hold a regular job with the club, considering that he has pitched very well and appears to be completely ready for major league service. In seven appearances, covering five-and-a-third innings with the Phillies, Bastardo has a 1.69 ERA to show for his work and opponents are hitting just .158 against him this season.

The Phillies have had to dig deep both at shortstop and catcher. When Jimmy Rollins went down, Lehigh Valley's phone rang to summon infielder Wilson Valdez to Philadelphia. The 31 year old Valdez was supposed to be a utility player behind Juan Castro. Instead, Castro went down with a hamstring injury, pressing Valdez into action and he's responded adequately, hitting .231 and making just one error during his time with the club. Not exactly hugely impressive numbers, but between Valdez and Castro - who has hit .258 with the Phillies - the Phillies have been able to make it through without Rollins in the lineup.

With Rollins chomping at the bit to return, Valdez will likely be the odd-man-out in Philadelphia and be designated for assignment. His future with the organization relies on whether another club will claim him on waivers as much as it does whether the Phillies want to keep him around.

Behind the plate, Paul Hoover got the call when Brian Schneider went on the DL. If he wasn't a catcher, Schneider's injury might not have been bad enough to force him onto the DL, but with just two catchers on the roster, the Phillies couldn't take any chances. It's good they didn't, because not long after Schneider went down, Carlos Ruiz suffered an achilles injury while running the bases. The Phillies have been able to avoid putting Ruiz on the DL and have gotten decent production from Hoover, who had played in just 31 games in the majors before joining the club on May 10. Since then, Hoover is hitting .517 (5-for-12) and has added four more games to his resume. He has also scored six runs and driven in five during his short stint behind the plate.

It makes you think that if Figueroa isn't needed by the time Schneider returns, perhaps the Phillies would be better served keeping three catchers and going with 11 pitchers rather than sending Hoover back to Triple-A. Schneider or Hoover might be able to handle a better pinch-hitting role that would help the club more than a journeyman pitcher like Figueroa.

The Phillies still have players like Chris Duffy, John Mayberry Jr., Cody Ransom, Andy Tracy and Dewayne Wise to go to for help should more injuries hit. And for starters, Drew Carpenter and Nate Bump are both pitching well at Lehigh Valley and might provide help in the rotation. Scott Mathieson, Oscar Villareal, Mike Zagurski and even Brandon Duckworth are all pitching well in relief for the IronPigs and any could merit a call to the majors should the Phillies find themselves needing more help with the big league club. In fact, for Mathieson, the call is probably overdue. The right-hander is completely healthy after two Tommy John surgeries, is 2-0, has saves in all six of his save opportunities and a scant 0.96 ERA in 14 appearances with Lehigh Valley. In 18 1/3 innings, Mathieson has allowed just 12 hits and six walks to go with 20 strikeouts and an opponents' batting average of .190 this season.

Part of being a good club is having enough depth to cover injuries when they hit. For the Phillies, the injuries have hit hard so far this season, but the impact has been covered by having enough talent stored up to get the club through the rough spots of the season. The Phillies have done well to insure that they have young, homegrown talent and veteran players who they've signed through minor league free agency to fill in when needed this season.

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