COMMENTARY | It took only a month and a week for the Philadelphia Phillies to earn the need to summon up the spit and rifle through the team junk drawer to find the glue it will need to hold their starting rotation together. With the May 8 announcement that Roy Halladay would be undergoing arthroscopic surgery on his throwing shoulder to remove a bone spur causing discomfort to a partially torn rotator cuff, and with the six to eight week respite already being served out on the disabled list by John Lannan, the Phillies are 40 percent short of their desired starting five.
Reports have surfaced that the Phillies are looking outside the organization for starting pitching help. Ideally, they'd like to pick up a major-league (historically) caliber pitcher who is signed to a minor-league contract. Candidates include the Baltimore Orioles' Zach Britton or Jake Arietta, both at Triple A Norfolk. But the Phillies would likely have to make a trade for either of those shaky prospects. The Orioles do have a pitcher the Phillies might just have to kick up a couple of dollars in free agent money to get if they can just be patient and ride out the storm for another month.
Jair Jurrjens was a National League All-Star as recently as 2011, but after a dismal 2012 year which saw him land on the disabled list in August with a groin strain that essentially ended his season, Jurrjens was not tendered a contract offer by the Atlanta Braves in the offseason.
But Jurrjens has been more than serviceable in Triple A thus far, going 3-1 with a 2.56 ERA. He's still walking too many people but Jurrjens' raw stuff was always filthy. In serving as a fifth starter while the Phillies decide whether they are in the hunt before the July 31 trading deadline, he could be a viable answer.
Jurrjens has an opt-out clause in his contract that will come into play on June 15. The Orioles will then have 24 hours to put him on the major-league roster or he can opt for free agency. Right now, Jurrjens is not even on the 40-man roster for the Orioles. However, with the call up of Freddy Garcia, it would seem that Jurrjens would be the next in line should they need another starter, which would take away the opt-out clause and force the Phillies to offer more in a trade than they would probably need to while he's still in Triple A.
The difference between the 2013 Phillies and the Fightins of recent years is a lack of depth in the rotation. In years previous, the team's best performer thus far of this season, Kyle Kendrick, rode an elevator back and forth from Triple A to the bullpen to the rotation when necessary. Kendrick, after another stellar outing against the San Francisco Giants May 7, has cemented himself as the No. 3 starter.
Depth in the minor-league system is more suited to support bullpen injuries than rotational issues. The Phils turned to 22-year old Jonathan Pettibone to fill the void left by Lannan, and he's performed valiantly through three starts (he's currently on the mound and throwing well in the sixth inning of his fourth), going 2-0 with a 3.24 ERA and perhaps most impressively striking out 13 and walking just 2 in 16.2 innings of work.
The Phillies would tell you that as well as Pettibone is pitching, they'd rather he still be in Triple A, being over-seasoned, a calling card of the organization's treatment of young arms. But for the time being, perhaps the book is not out on Pettibone and this is just a flash in the pan. Perhaps with a little more work, he'll be a long-term option. Perhaps he's really got the stuff to make it in the show right now. He's certainly showing all the earmarks of a kid who gets how vital location is at the upper echelon of the sport.
The Phillies do have other young starters waiting in the wings. Adam Morgan, a 23-year old lefty who has performed well at Triple A Lehigh Valley, and Ethan Martin (acquired in the trade for Shane Victorino from the Los Angeles Dodgers), a hard-throwing righty with big-league stuff but perhaps not big-league confidence, are options. They are options the Phillies would prefer not to use.
Jesse Biddle is the organization's golden boy, and has shined in his first year of Double A ball in Reading. But the Phillies are not ready to send Biddle into the fire just yet. The 21-year old figures dramatically in the Phillies' future plans, and they won't mortgage that future by moving him along too quickly. If all goes well, his time could come in 2014.
In the short term, the Phillies will go to Tyler Cloyd to fill in the gap left by Halladay, and they should only do so when a fifth starter is necessary. The Phillies have three off days in May that could allow them to use the rest of the rotation on regular rest after Cloyd starts Friday against the Arizona Diamondbacks until May 29 when they face the Boston Red Sox at home. After that you're looking at just two weeks until you can get Jurrjens on the cheap.
But you might want to be checking on what it would cost right now, because this team can't afford to fall too deep into a hole they simply don't have the talent to climb out of anymore.
Pete Lieber is a freelance writer who has covered the Phillies for more than three years and followed the team since Dick Ruthven skipped the minors and went right to the show. Follow him on Twitter at @Lieber14.
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