Sunday, February 24, 2008

Comings And Goings

His first pitch of the day, and during batting practice no less!

The Phillies' promising bullpen situation just got unsettled to say the least as newly acquired closer Brad Lidge caught his spike on the mound and tweaked his surgically repaired knee before the first Spring Training game even took place. The organization will hold its collective breath as doctors, trainers and, of course Lidge himself, sees how things feel today and tomorrow.

There's little to be gained by panicking but something to gained by speculating. If Lidge is unable to start the season, something which was already a possibility given the surgery, the Phils may move Brett Myers back to the pen and try and sign Kyle Lohse to replace him in the starting rotation. You can be sure the front office is already making discreet inquiries, particularly since Lohse is represented by the dreaded Scott Boras. Only yesterday manager Charlie Manuel expressed surprise Lohse was still unsigned. Manuel added he didn't expect Loshe's unemployment to endure much longer. Little did he know!

Lohse is strictly a mediocrity, but in today's pitching-starved big leagues mediocrities have a definite place. Only Lohse's salary demands and unpopular agent have prevented any teams from signing him to date. Look for that to change soon, whether or not it's the Phillies who blink first.

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An article in today's Inquirer by Jim Salisbury quotes Scott Rolen as saying he would have accepted a trade back to the Phillies had an offer been made before he was swapped to Toronto. Apparently the Phils never seriously considered reacquiring Rolen for fear his injury problems have diminished his abilities and would be too risky for the three-years remaining on his contract.

Rolen also responded to the charge he could not get along with managers:

Rolen's commitment and professional approach to playing the game have never been questioned, but after two highly visible disputes with managers, it's legitimate to wonder if he has a problem getting along with people, particularly those in authority.

"Fair question," Rolen said. "I've thought about people thinking that. I'm the common denominator in both situations. I'm smart enough to see that.

End of story.

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While everyone in baseball agrees the Mets' acquisition of Johann Santana makes them a formidable playoff contender, the key off-season pitching acquisition in MLB may have been made by the Detroit Tigers when they traded for Dontrelle Willis (along with Miguel Cabrera). Willis has a decidedly mediocre season in 2007, losing fifteen while winning ten and sporting an ERA nearly 1.5 runs per nine innings above his lifetime figure.

Some scouts felt he'd lost some zip on his fastball and he struggled spotting his breaking stuff. It's also possible he'd lost something of his famous enthusiasm playing in front of 895 fans and 211 ushers and vendors every night in humid South Florida.

The move to Michigan may be just what the doctor ordered to revive his enthusiasm if not career. Along with Justin Verlander, they could be an impressive 1-2 punch. If Kenny Rogers has anything left in the tank and if Jeremy Bonderman and Nate Robertson can bounce back the Tigers could have one tough rotation. One thing's for sure: Willis will be backed up by the most formidable lineup the game has seen for many years if not decades.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Tom, you know I have to counter whenever you tear into my man Scotty. I seriously doubt you or I would have gotten along with Larry Bowa or Tony LaRussa, either. These are two of the most difficult and abrasive men in baseball, and Rolen is hardly alone in having problems with either of them. As Rolen said in that piece, there is more than one side to a story, and I don't think the 'case closed' approach is very fair.

I, for one, was heartened that Rolen would have approved a trade back to the Phillies. Maybe an improbable, Dick Allen-style comeback is in the works somewhere down the road.

Where Lidge is concerned, one has to wonder. It immediately brings to mind the Freddy Garcia debacle and leads me to speculate whether this injury had something to do with an already existing condition which the Phillies, again, did not take seriously enough to consider when drawing up the entire off-season's plans around him. It could just be 'one of those things', but the Phillies have not exactly earned the benefit of that doubt. Front officer Charlie Kerfeld was impatiently quoted by a curious Jim Salisbury: "At least let us lose a game before you start second-guessing us!" Fine - we'll wait until Tom Gordon blows that first game if it makes you happier, Charlie.