Friday, May 18, 2007

Average Pitcher On An Average Team

So much for .500.

One day after floating to the surface after a season-long stay beneath sea level, the Phillies dipped beneath the waves again following a 3-2 loss to Milwaukee. In their defense it's difficult to sweep any team especially one with so many tough outs, an outstanding starter in Ben Sheets and this year's leading closer in Francisco Cordero. On the other hand, it's equally difficult to figure out what more incentive they required to give extra effort.

Pat Burrell, whose power has come alive this home stand, gave the Phils a 1-0 lead in the bottom of the second inning and nearly tied the game with a drive off the top of the fence in the bottom of the ninth which was inches from going out but was correctly ruled a double. The next two batters failed to deliver, however, and pinch runner Michael Bourn was stranded at second base to end the game.

The other notable development in this game was the effort by starter Freddy Garcia, who pitched 5.2 innings, yielding seven hits and two earned runs. That isn't a bad outing overall but Garcia threw 114 pitches before being lifted by manager Charlie Manuel. Not only did the big right-hander look displeased when Manuel took the ball from him during the game, afterwards he made no bones about his displeasure to anyone with a microphone and pad. Garcia has yet to look comfortable in red pinstripes though his performances have improved since the beginning of the season. Still, his fastball remains MIA and he is working a lot of deep counts, both of which are connected as Phil Sheridan among others points out in his column today in the Inquirer. Garcia is signed only through the end of this season and it's a fair assumption that both he and the Phillies are not making any commitments for the future at this stage in their relationship. Garcia began the season with loud whispers about his declining velocity and a sore arm that required him to miss his first start. Since then he has hardly quieted the doubters as he lost for the third time in four decisions.

Garcia joins a growing list of big-name pitchers who have arrived in Philadelphia in recent seasons and made it clear almost immediately they aren't likely to stay. Kevin Millwood, Billy Wagner and now Garcia have at various times complained about how they were being used or treated. We can't lay the blame for this latest discontentment at Charlie Manuel's feet; Larry Bowa was in charge when the first two pitchers started making noises. Unlike the Millwood and Wagner acquisitions, however, the Garcia trade carried a warning label from the beginning. Yes, he finished last season with a flourish, but too many American League scouts were already questioning his arm for the Phillies not to have been more cautious. Three months later he is sidelined briefly with arm troubles and after more than a month into the current season he appears to be laboring. The best that can be said about him is that he makes a credible fourth or fifth starter. In this pitching-starved era I guess that is considered about average.

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