Phillies Starting Pitching Depth Receives A Much Needed Boost
There were two decidedly positive developments in Clearwater today. Of the eight starting pitchers atop of the Phillies depth chart to begin camp, four have succumbed to injuries over the past six weeks: Cole Hamels, Jonathan Pettibone, Miguel Alfredo Gonzalez, and Ethan Martin. Today, two of those pitchers exhibited signs that they may be returning sooner rather than later.
According to Jim Salisbury, Cole Hamels had a promising outing in a minor league game today:
Hamels experienced some shoulder fatigue in early March, but is fully back on track now.
He proved that Thursday afternoon, throwing 30 pitches, 20 strikes, against a Pittsburgh Pirates’ minor-league club. Hamels allowed two infield hits. He did not walk a batter and struck out one.
“I felt great out there,” he said.
Hamels expects to continue to pitch in minor-league games in Florida every fifth day.
Barring any setbacks, this puts Hamels on pace to return to the Phillies rotation by the end of April. No matter who assumes the fifth starter role during Hamels’ absence, his return will obviously be a major boost to the rotation.
The other bright spot on the Phillies’ final day in Clearwater came by way of Jonathan Pettibone’s 2014 Grapefruit League debut. He threw 33 pitches over two innings of work and recorded two strikeouts while yielding just two singles and a walk. It’s worth noting that according to the Phillies broadcast booth, Pettibone continued to throw in the bullpen after his outing, meaning he may be slightly further along in his recovery than Hamels despite the similar outing length.
Pettibone’s 2013 season ended with shoulder soreness, so the fact that he reported to spring training still experiencing shoulder pain was a big red flag. If he’s able to successfully work through his shoulder ailment, he’ll provide desperately needed depth for the Phillies rotation. Last year, Pettibone threw 100.1 innings with a pedestrian stat line: 4.04 ERA, 1.47 WHIP, 15.1% strikeout-rate, 8.7% walk-rate. Still, that level of production is in line with what is to be expected from a fifth starter and the added flexibility of Pettibone’s remaining option years makes his healthy return valuable to the club.
The Phillies don’t need a 5th starter until April 13th and it remains to be seen if Pettibone will be far enough along to compete with David Buchanan and Jeff Manship for the spot, but even if he’s not in Philadelphia in April, the potential for a healthy Pettibone ready for the call in Triple-A Lehigh Valley this summer is a significant and somewhat unexpected development.