The biggest question (and story line) in spring training this year has to be who will be the fifth starter? The candidates will be J.A. Happ, Kyle Kendrick, Chan Ho Park, and Carlos Carrasco. You have one who was great down the stretch for the Phils, one who was terrible down the strecth and lost his job, one who was coming out of the bullpen most of 08′ for the dodgers, and one who is a highly touted rookie but may not be ready yet. So let’s take a closer look.
* Happ was called up July 4th in 2008 to make his first start of the year against the douchebags with Johan Santana on the mound. What got Happ this call-up was he went 5-6 with a 3.54 ERA in 17 starts for Triple A Lehigh Valley. Happ fared well in his first start going 4 and 2/3 innings and giving up 2 ER. Happ pitched well enough to stick around in the bullpen and even take Rudy Seanez’s spot on the playoff roster. When all was said and done he went 1-0 with a 3.69 ERA but as a starter he had a mere 2.28 ERA in 4 starts (23 2/3 IP). I watched all of Happ’s starts and there was one thing I loved and that was his poise. He never seemed to get rattled by anything out there. Coming out of the bullpen was a different story though. Also Happ gave up only 3 homeruns in his 4 games started but something fishy I noticed is all 3 of those homeruns were on 0-1 counts. Maybe he needs to stay out of the strike zone a little more early in the count. If there is a favorite in this race, I would have to say it would be Happ.
* Kendrick was phenomenal for the Phillies in 2007 when he was called up. In 2007 he went 10-4 with a 3.87 ERA in 20 starts, he even started game 2 of the NLDS that year. But unfortunately 2008 was a different story. I really can’t entirely pinpoint a game where everything came crashing down but the entire year Kendrick seemed like he was scared to death. I remember April 9th against the Mets when he walked 6 BATTERS! I can, however, pinpoint where he lost his job as can we all. He went 1-4 with an 11.35 ERA in 6 starts down the stretch. It was a nightmare every time he started, I resorted to closing my eyes and hoping for the best. Kendrick opted to head down to Florida during the playoffs primarily to work on his changeup. Some say Kendrick’s chances at being a reliable major league pitcher depends on the development of his changeup. His bread and butter pitch is obviously his sinker but he needs to compliment that with the changeup and keep the batters off balance. I haven’t completely given up on Kendrick yet but I was pretty close based on his 08′ performance. If Kendrick can stop working on his modeling career and get his head back in the game then he might have a shot at the 5th starter job.
* Chan Ho Park, I will admit, I do not know much about. Other then he actually drop kicked another player in an on field brawl (pictured left) which I think is pretty fucking awesome. Park spent last year with the Los Angeles Dodgers and mostly came out of the pen for them. He went 4-4 with a 3.40 ERA in 95 and 1/3 innings. Back in December the Phillies agreed to a 1 year $2.5 million contract with Park, promising him a shot at the starting rotation. Park has taken this so seriously that he has turned down playing in the World Baseball CLassic jsut so the Phils can get a better look at him in spring training. Something to keep in mind is in 5 starts for the Dodgers last year he went 1-0 with a 2.16 ERA. I, personally, am not sold on Park. He has been abysmal since the 2001 season and I really don’t think the Phillies should take on a reclamation project. A lot of people are talking about his increase in velocity ebing the reason he had success last year, as I said I am not sold on him but we will see how it plays out. Where I see Park being most valuable is in the bullpen as a multiple innings reliever. I know that isn’t what he is interested in but I’m sure he prefers that over being unemployed or stuck in the minors.
* Carrasco would definitely be the dark horse in this race. Not due to talent or ability but just because he only pitched in AAA for a short period of time before the season ended and has no major league experience at all. Carrasco is arguably the Phillies best prospect and is on track for great things in the future, but what about right now? I am all for giving Carrasco a long look in spring training. I understand you don’t want to rush your prospects and give them ample time to develop but at the same time if he is ready, he is ready. Last year he sort of struggled in AA Reading going 7-7 with a 4.32 ERA in 2008 but when he was called up to AAA he faired much better going 2-2 with a 1.72 ERA in 6 starts. Most impressively he had 46 K’s in
36 and 2/3 innings and also went 3-0 with a 2.11 ERA in 11 starts in winter ball. Carrasco is pitching for his native country Venezuela in the World Baseball Classic this year so I’m not sure how good a look the Phils will get at him but regardless he will most likely start the season in AAA.
So that’s the run down of the race for the 5th starter job this spring. It looks like it will be quite interesting to follow and I always look at competition as a good thing. Right now I’d have to give the edge to Happ and say he has the best shot. Check back later for an in depth look at who will be competing for the role of back up catcher for 2009.