Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Around The Horn

Had David Bell hit .280 during his four years in Philadelphia the innuendo in the wake of reports linking him as a customer of an internet pharmacy under investigation might not be so widespread nor as nasty. So much for a presumption of innocence. It is just as likely he ordered the six packages of human chorionic gonadotropin through the Alabama-based pharmacy because a friend or teammate recommended it rather than the local drugstore, but that wouldn't make nearly as good a story. Calls for Bell to come forth and provide an explanation are not unreasonable and, under the circumstances, are probably in his best interest. By the same token, snide remarks about the apparent lack of performance enhancement these substances provided him are the stuff of cheap shots and internet rumor-mongering. Unlike many of the players suspected of abusing performance enhancement substances, Bell had a well-documented chronic back condition.

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The Phillies have already announced they plan to use closer Tom Gordon sparingly at the beginning of the season if not throughout the entire campaign. Last year Gordon pitched several back-to-back-t0-back games and eventually went down with arm troubles. Let's see how Charlie Manuel feels when and if crunch time comes in successive games in April and the desire for a quick start overrides prudence with regard to the 39-year old pitcher. If the Phillies do have a backup plan, now is the time to put it in place.

Presumably there are at least a few pitchers already on the squad who are quietly auditioning for the backup closer and set-up roles, but talk of Brett Myers moving to the pen is utterly ridiculous. Apart from having the wrong temperament (as I previously noted), the Phillies aren't so deep in starting pitching that they can afford to have one of their top ones leave the rotation.

Unless they move Jon Lieber for another arm in the pen, help is likely to come from someone already in camp. Among the names bandied about are Fabio Castro and Matt Smith. Castro's greatest shortcoming may be his youthful inexperience and control. Let it be noted, however, that he has at least as much if not more experience than college pitchers who have made the jump and that he has a live arm and, apparently, little fear. Though he was roughed up yesterday against the Pirates, only one of the four runs he surrendered was earned. The reincarnation of Goose Gossage isn't going to retire the side if his teammates kick the ball around.

My nominee for emergency closer all along has been Smith. He proved himself last year in a big game against the Astros and reiterated how valuable that experience was in a recent interview. He, too, didn't fare well against the Pirates yesterday, but Spring Training games, especially early ones, are hardly the measure of any player, especially pitchers.

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Abraham Nunez will see playing time this year, usually starting in about the eighth inning as a defensive replacement for Wes Helms. Carlos Ruiz will see more playing time as it becomes apparent to the Phils that they need his bat more than they need Rod Barajas' glove and language skills.

The aforementioned Lieber's stock may not be all that high at the moment, but as March winds down some team in serious need of a starter is going to part with a player of some immediate value. While some believe another established outfielder would be useful, the bullpen remains the most pressing need. It's always tough to give up a starting pitcher for someone who will only appear sporadically for an inning or two instead of a position player who might appear more regularly, but the pen remains the area of greatest concern for the Phils and the outfield should be decent with Burrell, Rowand, Victorino, Bourn and Werth. Over at Beerleaguer there has been much debate among commenters regarding Victorino's value. Last year he had his first opportunity to play regularly for large periods of time and handled the job well. He is a first-rate if sometimes reckless outfielder with a great arm and a free-swinging, impatient batter who might easily improve with a starting role guaranteed. Swift as he is, he hasn't learned how to steal bases, but coach Davey Lopes has made him a project this Spring. Some question if he is more valuable in center than right field, an argument I would agree with, but unless the Phils package Rowand in a deal with Lieber, that shift remains highly unlikely.


RickSchuBlues said...

My memory of Matt Smith in a big game against the Astros is of him blowing a lead by walking three hitters in a row. The kind of performance he coughed up yesterday to a bunch of Pirate bush-leaguers ought to give one pause when considering he is the most 'experienced' left-hander out of the bullpen. Overall, I was impressed by what he showed last season, but I wouldn't agree that he should be considered as an emergency closer.

As for Victorino: he'll probably be a popular player as long as he's a Phillie, but I feel like he could be a better offensive player if he didn't give away so many at-bats. He makes Jimmy Rollins look like Booby Abreu.

Tom Goodman said...

I and a number of other bloggers were at that game and he was squeezed by all accounts including our own. He pitched very well despite his line. I think he is the sleeper on this staff.

Jason said...

Smith showed surprise toughness and wasn't afraid to go after hitters, but before the Phillies can even think about closer, he needs to first show he can handle the role he's been assigned, which is to retire the left-handers. Being the only left-handed lock for the pen, that in and of itself will be a big challege for the 27-year-old. Plenty of pressure spots, right out of the chute. That said, I like him, and think he was a nice pickup from the Abreu deal.

J. Weitzel said...

last comment was mine, btw.

Tom Goodman said...

Jason: I agree he has to show he can perform the role for which he was acquired before taking on the greater responsibility. I have great expectations of him.