As pitchers and catchers were reporting to Clearwater today, there were two significant developments in regards to the Philadelphia Phillies’ starting rotation. First, Cole Hamels spoke to the media, saying that he would not be ready to pitch on opening day. A little while later it was announced that the Phillies had signed A.J. Burnett to a one-year-deal.
When Hamels spoke to the media, he did not seemed too worried about his status heading into the season. He experienced discomfort in his pitching shoulder while throwing in the off-season and is now behind schedule in terms of being able to pitch. Hamels said he talked to the team’s trainers and saw Dr. Michael Ciccotti, who diagnosed “a little tendinitis”. He stated that at this point he is in the middle stages of his offseason throwing program, leaving him about eight to ten days away from throwing a bullpen session. So while Cliff Lee will now likely be the opening day starter, Hamels will not be far behind, saying, “I see myself pitching in April.”
Despite learning that their ace would miss at least one game, the team did strengthen the starting rotation with the addition of Burnett. As long as Hamels is right in that he will be ready for April, the Phillies have a much more concrete rotation than they had before. Burnett not only gives the Phillies a solid number 3 pitcher behind Hamels and Lee, but also creates more of a competition for the last two spots in the rotation.
As a good strikeout and groundball pitcher, Burnett will fit in well at Citizens Bank Park. He finished 2013 with a ground-ball rate of 56.7%, which was second-best in the majors. This along with his ability to strike out batters, with K/9 rate of 9.8 last season, gives the Phillies a great number three starter, who could also be the team’s number two pitcher should they want to split the lefties. There is also the fact that Burnett has started at least 30 games a season since 2008, giving the team three consistent starters in the rotation. The Phillies will need Burnett to remain healthy, as a loss of any of the top three starters immediately leaves the team with a thin rotation.
Should Hamels, Lee, or Burnett miss any time, their spot will likely be taken by one of the pitchers that does not win either one of the last two spots. Kyle Kendrick, Roberto Hernandez, Miguel Gonzalez, and Johnathan Pettibone will be fighting for the remaining spots in the rotation. It should be Kendrick and Hernandez’s jobs to lose, as both have signed deals to start for the team. However, it cannot be overlooked if Pettibone and Gonzalez outperform either during spring training.
Gonzalez has the most upside of the four, but having never pitched in the MLB, has the least experience. Pettibone is the youngest and could still develop into a capable starter after his rookie year was cut short by injury. Kendrick and Hernandez have the advantage of a larger body of work that could give them more room for error during spring training. If Kendrick and Hernandez hold onto the spots, then Gonzalez will likely end up in the bullpen to develop. Meanwhile Pettibone could also go to the bullpen, or may even be optioned to Triple-A.