Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Phils' Vote for Pedro


Just two weeks ago to the day, I penned an article titled "What's Wrong With the Phillies?" The answer apparently was as simple as a 9-1 homestand, highlighted by a 22-run outburst near the front end that my wife and I attended, and by a dramatic 8-7 comeback win in the 9th inning near the back end.

Thanks to the sudden burst of inspired play, the Phils moved back to 10 games over the .500 mark, and opened up a four game lead on their nearest challengers, the Florida Marlins. The rival New York Mets? They have been buried under an avalanche of injuries that has them sitting with a losing record, 6 1/2 games behind the Phillies.

One of the biggest reasons that the Phils turned things around was the long-anticipated emergence of the 'real' Jimmy Rollins. The straw that stirs the world champions drink finally began to hit on the homestand, and with the return of Raul Ibanez from injury the team appears to again be the best offensive club in the National League.

But the starting pitching remains an enigma. The early season loss of Brett Myers is beginning to catch up to the rotation. The ace, Cole Hamels, has been extremely inconsistent. He was outstanding in that 22-1 win over Cincinnati, but then got whacked around by the Pirates over the weekend. Jamey Moyer has been ineffective, to put it nicely. Joe Blanton had a strong outing to build on his last time out, and J.A. Happ remains the most consistently strong starter.

For all of the offensive and defensive talents of Chase Utley, Ryan Howard, Shane Victorino, Jayson Werth, Raul Ibanez, Jimmy Rollins, Pedro Feliz and the rest, it will be the pitching staff that likely determines how far the team will go should it reach the post-season.

To that end, general manager Ruben Amaro Jr and the Phillies brain trust have left no stone unturned in an effort to improve the pitching staff. Today the club took their first step forward by signing former all-star and future Hall of Famer Pedro Martinez to a 1-year contract.

From the time he truly broke out as a 25-year old with the Montreal Expos in 1997 through his 7 memorable season with the Boston Red Sox, and on into his first full season with the New York Mets in 2005, Pedro was one of the best pitchers in baseball. He has 214 career wins, a career 2.91 ERA, has struck out 3,117 batters, and has won the Cy Young Award in both leagues.

Unfortunately, the Phillies did not sign that Pedro Martinez.

Oh, he's the same man. But at age 38, not having pitched all season in the Major Leagues, the Pedro whom the Phillies signed is a shadow of his former self. That said, I still believe that he can help this Phillies team win this year, and quite obviously the Phillies believe that as well.

Martinez has been placed on the DL with what is described as a mild shoulder strain to start his Phillies career. The organization believes that he will be able to compete again in 2-3 weeks. The guess is that in about two weeks he will be scheduled for a minor league rehab assignment, and his progress during those starts will dictate his callup to the Phillies sometime in the 2nd or 3rd week of August.

If the Phillies get 6-8 good starts out of Martinez that help win the pennant in August and September, that will have been well worth the investment. If not, they are probably out nothing more than the $1 million that he has been contracted for at minimum. It is a risk well worth taking, that Pedro's guile, experience, and remaining talents can help the club down the stretch and into the playoffs.

Now with Pedro Martinez aboard, the Phillies have added a decent depth option to their starting rotation. But what they really need in order to nail down the division and advance deep into the playoffs again is a big improvement at the front of the rotation. Whether that comes from Cole Hamels finding his winning form, or from a trade for a true ace like Roy Halladay, or both, it remains a necessity.

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