Pedro Martinez anyone?

pedroJamie Moyer turned in a quality start on Wednesday night, which is no small feat.  After all, heading into that game nearly every other batter reached base against the 46-year old lefty this month. Moreover, that one ugly inning reared its head again for Joe Blanton on Thursday afternoon.

Just when it looked as if the big right-hander had turned the proverbial corner, up came a couple of bloop hits and a three-run homer to bite Joe in the rear. Just like that and a five-spot was stuck on the board.

Cole Hamels? Yeah, he looks like he’s back to form. And Brett Myers? Sometimes what you see is what you get.

So it goes that if the Phillies are going to parade down Broad Street for a second straight year, they are going to have to get the pitching together. After all, that’s how they did it last year. Sometimes, though, that’s easier said than done. Every team wants pitching and because the quality stuff is spread so thin, general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. might have to get creative if he wants to bolster up the worst rotation in the Majors.

How creative? We’re not sure. But how is this for an idea…

Pedro Martinez.

Yeah, that’s right… why not take a flyer on Pedro Martinez?

Look, we know all about it. Pedro is 37, he gets hurt a lot and his best days are clearly in the past. Last season for the Mets, Pedro went 5-6 with a 5.61 ERA in 20 starts – clearly the worst season of his big league career and the third season in a row where he missed a significant portion of the season because of injuries.

After going 15-8 with a 2.82 ERA in 2005, Martinez went 17-15 with a 4.74 ERA in 48 starts in three combined seasons. When his contract ended after the Mets choked away another September, they just let him walk away – and so did everyone else for that matter.

But really, Pedro’s worst season ever is still significantly better than what Moyer, Blanton and Chan Ho Park have done this year and general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. gave the 46-year-old lefty a two-year deal. It would take significantly less – like a prorated deal for the rest of the season – to bring Martinez on board.

Better yet, if he doesn’t pitch well the Phillies can always say, “Adios.” No harm, no foul.

eatonThat might not be the Phillies style though. Apparently going after someone like Martinez might be thinking waaaaaaaay out of the box. Or was it? Last spring the Phillies took a chance on veteran Kris Benson and when it was clear he couldn’t pitch, they cut him loose. Since then Benson signed on with Texas where he has appeared in four games and has a 7.80 ERA…

That’s the same ballpark as Moyer and Blanton.

Plus, when ex-GM Pat Gillick knew he wouldn’t be able to sign Randy Wolf, he panicked and gave a three-year deal to Adam Eaton.

Remember how well that turned out? Yeah, well it still wasn’t as bad as Moyer, Blanton and Park have been this season.

Yes, the plan is for the Phillies’ staff to pitch better and based on past performance that’s not out of the realm of possibility. Still, what if those guys don’t turn it around? What then? It just seems silly not to take a shot on someone like Pedro Martinez when bigger projects like Eaton, Park and Benson were signed up with seemingly not a second thought.

Vote for Pedro? Shoot, how bad could it be?

*

Note: We’re going to be away from the ballpark for a couple of days while my wife recovers from an appendectomy and pneumonia. As soon as the ol’ girl gets her mojo back, we’ll be back at the ballpark.

Until then… hospital food!

Adam Eaton graphic from The Baltimore Sun

Trading deadline come and gone…

… and I’m tired. Here’s the last offering from Washington on the Phillies’ (non) moves. I’m done and will get back to my normal dose of stylings as soon as possible.

Carry on.

Oh yeah… at low Class-A Lakewood, Adam Eaton had a rough night in his first minor-league start. Against the West Virginia Power, Eaton was tattooed for five hits and four earned runs in 3 1/3 innings. Afterwards, the exiled Phillie told the Asbury Park Press that he felt good.

“I felt good. The ball was coming out pretty nice. I was very happy with the way I threw,” said Eaton, apparently not fazed by being tagged for five hits, including three doubles and a home run by the Milwaukee Brewers affiliate.

Ouch.

Meanwhile, at high Class-A Clearwater, starter Joe Savery was also roughed up a bit. In just one inning of work, the 2007 first-round draft pick gave up eight runs on eight hits and four walks to fall to 5-9 as his ERA climbed to 4.46.

Double ouch.

Also down on the pharm (like that “ph”? Clever, huh?), Kris Benson turned in a solid outing for Triple-A Lehigh Valley on Wednesday night. Benson gave up five hits and one run over seven innings in a 2-1 loss to Norfolk. It was the second straight start in which Benson pitched seven innings.

Phillies assistant general manager Mike Arbuckle said Benson isn’t quite ready to join the big-league team yet, but could find himself at Citizens Bank Park by the end of the season.

Six is better than five

Adam EatonMeanwhile, Johan Santana pitched well against the Red Sox yesterday. His line: 4 IP, 4 K’s, 2 hits, no runs.

For sure, the sports world is ready to explode with action in the next few weeks. Actually, the world sports scene will be packed with HUGE events until the end of the Olympics in Beijing where athletes will battle pollution worse than Philadelphia, New York and Los Angeles combined.

Call them “The Iron Lung Games.”

Nevertheless, the faux dramatics of the NCAA College Basketball Selection Show kicks it all off next Sunday. They stretch that tournament out for most of March so they can weed out all of those low-seeded teams that pulled off those early-round upsets. I guess that’s the proper way to do things because the better teams usually win, though it seems as if interest wanes after all the upsets stop and the TV network stops that rapid-fire coverage of showing 19 games ending all at once.

The truth is the NCAA Tournament lasts too long. What is it, six games to win it all? Shoot, they could do the entire thing in a weekend like a CYO Tournament where school kids played two or three games a day to get a trophy for the school’s trophy case.

Isn’t that what they play for in the NCAA Tournament?

They play The Masters, the biggest golf tournament in the world, in just four days the weekend following the NCAA Tournament. Sure, basketball is a little more athletic than golf, but everything is relative. If a person’s mind and body are programmed to play 18 holes of golf for four straight days, it’s kind of like running 18 miles… or something. Actually, let me explain it this way: I once played 18 holes at Pine Valley and didn’t even have to carry my own bag, but my feet were as sore after any of the 13 marathons I’ve run. Yeah, that even includes the ’98 Boston Marathon where my feet got all swole to the point that I couldn’t wear shoes for three days.

Oh, but the NCAA Tournament and The Masters are just the least of it in a busy-as-a-bee next 30 days. Major League Baseball kicks off its season in less than three weeks, the NHL and NBA playoffs start soon (I think), the NFL Draft is approaching and then the London and Boston Marathons, including the U.S. Olympic Trials for the women’s marathon, cap it all off.

Bill and HillaryThat’s a lot of stuff packed into a month and it could be even more if the Flyers and 76ers make it to the playoffs. Forget about the Pennsylvania Primary on April 22 that could decide on who(m) could lead our union for the next four years and the really important stuff like taxes and that stuff – there’s sports to follow. Besides, according to the ESPN.com story, sports people don’t really care that Hillary Clinton will be criss-crossing our Commonwealth for the next few weeks putting to practice the theories that a.) she will say and do anything to get elected, and/or b.) she will claim many cities in Pennsylvania to be “home,” further exemplifying theory A.

On the other side, Barry Obama seems pretty cool.

But frankly, even with the primary, the draft, Opening Day, the NFL and NFL playoffs, The Masters, the overhyped NCAA Tournament, Easter, Passover and St. Patrick’s Day and the accompanying parade of songs by The Pogues ready to blast off, the issue that has everyone worked into a lather is the status of the Phillies’ fifth starter.

You know, the guy who likely won’t appear in his first game until the second week of the season.

Frankly, give me The Pogues… or even something derivative like The Dropkick Murphy’s[1]. Let someone else wax on about the fifth starter.

The PoguesOK. The fifth starter… forget about it. No matter what anyone says, handicaps or conventional wisdom. Adam Eaton, and all that’s left of his $24.5 million salary, will continue to be the No. 5 starter until he no longer can be the No. 5 starter. No, that’s not some sort of cryptic hocus-pocus. It means that as long as there is nothing physically wrong with Eaton’s back, shoulder, mental or cardiovascular games, the Phillies will keep trotting him out there. They did the same thing last year even though Eaton went 10-10 with a 6.29 ERA (glass half full: he was 7-3 on the road and shoved it up the Mets’ collective rears at Shea).

So unless Eaton’s arm or back falls off or he’s clubbed so badly that he’s reduced to sitting Indian-style on the mound with one shoe on and the other in his non-glove hand and beating himself on top of his head with the cleated end and the new-look, throwback jersey defaced with Sharpie scrawl with the word “dog” between “Eaton” and “21,” count on the veteran right-hander to keep taking the ball once every five days.

Or who knows… maybe Eaton will split starts with Kris Benson if he is recovered and ready to go come late April or early May. Perhaps the Phillies will go to a six-man rotation like the Red Sox did last September in preparation for the playoffs. Hey, with this Phillies club something like that could work.

Why not? Brett Myers is returning to the rotation after a year in the ‘pen followed by a career of inconsistent starting pitching; Cole Hamels has never pitched more than 183 innings in any season and has suffered an injury in every season going back to his high school days; Kyle Kendrick has turned in uglier numbers than Eaton this spring and probably would have started the 2008 season at Triple-A if he hadn’t been pressed into service last year; and then there is steady, 45-year-old Jamie Moyer who has seemingly turned in 200-plus innings every year going back to the Reagan Administration.

A six-man rotation? Sure, why not. Or maybe a modified six-man rotation with certain pitchers jumping up a day based on matchups or the importance of a particular game.

In other words, forget about the fifth guy… who will take the No. 6 spot?


[1] Apparently, The Dropkick Murphys and Ted Leo are playing in Dorchester at the IBEW Local 103 this Friday night. Talk about Irish… that’s more Irish than a Friday night with a bottle of Jameson and my Mick uncles and their bloodshot eyes. Everyone is welcome as long as they bring their own tin whistle, four-string and ride home.

Sending out the old, bringing in the new

Curt & JoshThere’s a very strong possibility that tonight’s game at Fenway could very well be Curt Schilling’s last with the Red Sox. That is, of course, if the Red Sox do not win the next two games of the ALCS against the Cleveland Indians to advance to the World Series to face the Colorado Rockies.

Schilling, though, is likely headed toward free agency and one more contract (possibly for two years?) before closing down a pretty stellar career. Will it be good enough to get him into the Hall of Fame? Probably, eventually. Schilling was one of the best big-game pitchers of his era, and was certainly better than Roger Clemens in the playoffs.

Better yet, if one wants to know how good Schilling was, just ask him. Actually, read his web site or just follow the TV cameras… if there is a bright light shining somewhere, Schilling likely will be trying to stand in front of it.

Anyway, there will likely be a lot of attention paid to the notion that Schilling could be pitching in his last game for the Red Sox during tonight’s telecast of Game 6 of the ALCS on Fox. In fact, Tim McCarver and Joe Buck with song-and-dance man Rosenthal… whathisname… Ken, that’s it… anyway, Tim, Joe and Ken will probably bring up the idea of Schilling returning to Philadelphia to pitch for the Phillies in 2008.

It’s doubtful, though, that the trio will bring up the notion of Schilling upsetting the harmony in the clubhouse or anything of that nature. But then again, you never know. That could be a topic for discussion since those playoff games on late-night TV tend to last five to six hours. Plus, the idea of Schilling returning to the Phillies and wrecking havoc in the clubhouse is a fair topic. It could happen. Oh sure, some might argue that if Brett Myers didn’t mess up the clubhouse chemistry then how could Schilling?

True. But then again, Schilling is reasonably intelligent. Smart people are more difficult to write off as a mere nuisance.

But back to the real point… perhaps the most interesting element of the ALCS thus far hasn’t been the notion of Curt Schilling pitching in his final game for the Red Sox. Instead, it has been Josh Beckett’s first playoff appearances for Boston. In that regard it would be fair to say that Beckett has been noteworthy.

Just a little.

In three playoff starts this year, Becket is 3-0 with 26 strikeouts with one walk in 23 innings. His ERA is 1.17, his WHIP is 0.43 and he is the reason why the Red Sox are still alive in the post-season and still have a chance to go to the World Series. Based on Beckett’s playoff run with the Marlins during the 2003 season in which he was named World Series MVP, it looks as if the younger right-hander is taking over for the older dude as the best big-game pitcher of the era.

In nine playoff appearances, Beckett has 73 strikeouts in 65 2/3 innings with a 1.78 ERA. For comparisons’ sake, Schilling had 73 strikeouts in 72 1/3 innings for a 1.62 ERA in his first nine playoff appearances. His 10th was Game 7 of the 2001 World Series.

The numbers, the right-handedness and the big-time outings in the playoffs are not the only similarities between Schilling and Beckett. They both also seem to be royal pains in the ass.

Schilling’s track record in that regard is well documented as everyone in Philadelphia certainly remembers. He was, as ex-GM Ed Wade pointed out, the horse on the day he pitched and the horse’s ass the other days of the week. That’s easily Wade’s best line ever.

But as far as Beckett goes, his horse’s assiness is starting to gain more momentum. Phillies’ fans might remember the incident from the pre-season exhibition game at Citizens Bank Park in 2006 when Beckett trash-talked at Ryan Howard so much and for so long that the Phillies’ gentle giant finally had enough, tossed his glove aside and called Beckett out.

Conveniently enough, Beckett safely had a dugout full of teammates and a railing between him and Howard lest he be turned into the slugger’s personal hand puppet. Which may have been the case during Game 5 of the ALCS when Beckett repeated the potty-mouth act with ex-Phillie Kenny Lofton, who after flying out took a special detour back to the dugout via the pitchers’ mound where he acted as if he had the intention of slapping Beckett.

Singer lady Again, Beckett was safely nestled in a cocoon of teammates so Lofton couldn’t get close enough to take a whack.

Note:Apropos of nothing, here’s something funny about Lofton: he has a rep as a bit of prima donna in his relations with the press as well as a clubhouse lawyer, but for some reason I always found myself rooting for Lofton to clean house when he was in a few minor fracases over the past few years. That’s interesting to me.

It keeps going with Beckett, too. Coincidentally, or at least so they say, the Indians hired Beckett’s ex-girlfriend to sing “God Bless America” during the seventh inning stretch while the pitcher waited on the mound for her to finish. Needless to say, Beckett was asked about the “coincidence” during the post-game press conference, and, well, let’s just say he gave a pretty honest answer.

Take a look:

Warning: the video contains a popular vulgarity and Josh Beckett. Do not play the video in front of children or anywhere else where it would be deemed inappropriate.

See. He didn’t have to do that, though it’s definitely more interesting that he did. Speaking of spicing up a post-game press conference and Boston-area pro sports, a Dallas radio station sent a dude to ask questions of the Patriots’ Bill Belichek and Tom Brady speaking in the rat-a-tat-tat cadence of the old newsreel reporter. The incident made quite a splash because writers working on a deadline have no sense of humor about what questions are asked and when and what the responses are/aren’t.

This is understandable, but then again, anything that makes humorless scribes whine and complain even more than the typical once every three seconds is hilarious to me.

Here it is:

Warning: the video contains Bill Belichek

Truth be told, however, I have to say I’m a little peeved at the old timey newsreel dude from Dallas. Actually, “peeved” is the wrong wrong. “Jealous” is more like it. You see, Matt Yallof and I came up with the idea first. In fact, I double-dared him to burst into the coat closet-sized visiting manager’s office at Shea Stadium and pepper then manager Larry Bowa with questions about “the local nine.”

Then I set the over/under for when he would get punched in the face by another media member or Bowa at 90 seconds.

Nevertheless, Matt and I thought the gag was so funny that we spent the entire drive back to Philadelphia from Shea speaking only in the old-time radio announcer’s voice. I’ll admit that it was a hoot for the first hour of the drive home, but then I began to feel sorry for our driver/photographer, Chris Smith… the things he had to tolerate.

But that doesn’t mean we ever broke character. Plus, I think there was a point where Matt turned his rendition into a bit for a TV story. He had a fedora, an old Smith-Corona and a clipped, rapid-fire monotone. Needless to say, all of this together spelled TV gold.

Blast from the past
I was reading through some of these old posts the other day and came across this from Dec. 13, 2006 regarding a special clause in Adam Eaton’s newly signed three-year contract.

It reads:

Upon signing, Eaton received a certified doctor’s note from the best psychiatrist in Philadelphia addressed to the commissioner’s office, informing them that he must wear an iPod while pitching to drown out the inevitable boos that come with playing in Philadelphia. This, the doctor argued, will keep Eaton’s fragile psyche in check, allowing the city’s residents to sleep in peace without worrying about another “ugly incident.”

No, it this wasn’t written by Nostradamus, but maybe it should have been.

Tuesday pre-game fodder

CharlieMonday’s day off was a long-awaited reward for the Phillies and manager Charlie Manuel. After grinding it out for 10 tough games during the intensity of a pennant race, Manuel needed some chill time.

So he spent the evening kicked back in front of the TV set, watching the Padres lose to the Giants and the Mets lose to the Nationals.

“I watched every pitch of the Padres and I watched every pitch of the Mets,” Manuel revealed before Tuesday night’s series opener against the Braves. “I’m thinking about getting the Japanese (baseball) package, too.”

Needless to say, it was quite an enjoyable evening for Manuel, who watched his Phillies pick up a half game in both the division and wild-card races from the comfort of his living room. As a result, the Phillies go into the final, six-game homestand of the regular season all tied up with the Padres, and trailing the Mets by a pair of games.

Meanwhile, the streaking Colorado Rockies are knocking on the door, just a game off the pace while the Braves still have an outside shot down three games with six to go. Baring a monumental collapse, the Phillies are in it to the end.

“We have six games left and I think we know what that means,” Manuel said.

If anything, Manuel says, the Phillies might have an advantage because they get to finish the season at home against the Braves and the lowly Nationals. The Padres have to play the Giants on the road before heading to Milwaukee to close out the season.

Meanwhile, the Rockies go to Los Angeles for three games against the Dodgers, but then return home to face the Diamondbacks and maybe even a Monday playoff game against the Phillies if it comes to that.

The Braves go to Houston to close out the season after the three games in Philadelphia.

So those six straight at home could loom large for the Phillies, right Charlie?

“One of the biggest advantages we have this year is we’re playing at home,” the skipper said. “I think that could be very big for us. We’ve had big crowds all year and the more noise we have, the more energy that brings and the more we get after it.”

The playoffs and potential travel plans as well as the possibility of a tiebreaking playoff game were a few the popular topics of conversation amongst the baseball scribes on Monday afternoon, with the consensus agreeing that it could come down to a game against the Rockies at Coors to determine the final four National League teams.

Manuel’s future
But another underlying theme was Manuel’s status as manager for next season and beyond with the Phillies. With the Philadelphia Daily News reporting that general manager Pat Gillick would not seek a contract extension when his current deal expires after the 2008 season, and Manuel’s contract set to expire at the end of this season, there has been a little scuttlebutt regarding the skipper’s status. After all, Manuel has exceeded expectations this season by leading a team ravaged by injuries to first place in the wild-card race in the last week of the season. Moreover, only Pat Moran, the Phillies’ manager from 1915 to 1918, won more games in his first three seasons than Manuel.

So Charlie, has Gillick – or the Phillies’ brass – broached the subject of an extension?

“No, not at all,” he said. “Matter of fact it’s alright. I want to stay focused on our team. It’s not about me. It’s about our team and it’s about winning. I don’t have time to worry about anything else.”

In fact, Manuel says he doesn’t have the slightest inkling about what is going to happen.

“I don’t know anything about that until I sit down with him and that won’t happen until the off season,” the manager said.

In other words, the future is now for Manuel.

Rotation set
And as such, Manuel has made the proper adjustment to his team’s pitching rotation for the final sprint. Adam Eaton, the much-maligned starting pitcher whose 6.36 ERA ranks last amongst the league’s starters, was informed during a lengthy pre-batting practice conversation that he will pitch on Saturday afternoon against the Nats, instead of taking his regularly scheduled turn on Thursday night against John Smoltz.

That means rookie Kyle Kendrick will pitch on Thursday instead of Friday, and Cole Hamels will go on Friday instead of Saturday afternoon.

Lining it up this way, the Phillies can use Hamels in Game 1 of the NLDS on regular rest… if it comes to that.

Needless to say, Manuel explained that the Phillies haven’t planned that far ahead, but simply “was the best way for us to go.” That’s how Manuel says he explained it to Eaton, who also faced the Nationals in his last start on Friday night in Washington where he gave up three runs on five hits, five walks and two hit batsmen in just five innings.

“He took it fine. He’s OK,” Manuel said of what looked like a decidedly one-sided conversation. “We have to wins some games now. I don’t want somebody to say I didn’t tell them something. I have no problem telling anybody anything. We actually had a pretty good talk.”

Et cetera
Having used go-to relievers Brett Myers, Tom Gordon and J.C. Romero for five straight games last week, Manuel asked starter Kyle Lohse for a relief stint on Sunday’s game. Set to throw a bullpen session anyway, Manuel asked the newcomer starter to do his bullpen in a game instead.

Though Monday’s day off gave the ‘pen a day to refresh, Manuel said he will look to a starter or two for a relief outing if the opportunity presents itself.

“It depends on what game,” Manuel said. “Lohse is one of those guys that I like to throw an inning because of the stuff he has and his arm. His stuff is why I’d put him in a game.”

***
The Phillies’ rival San Diego suffered an odd injury in the most crucial time when slugging outfield Milton Bradley tore his ACL while being restrained by manager Bud Black during an argument with an umpire. was injured when his own manager spun him to the ground while trying to keep him from going after umpire Mike Winters during an eighth-inning confrontation in Sunday’s 7-3 loss to Colorado at Petco Park.

When asked if he had ever injured a player when attempting to restrain him from getting into a confrontation with an umpire, Manuel said, “I don’t know, but I always wanted to.”

When asked if the fiery Milton Bradley was one of those players back when the pair worked together with the Cleveland Indians, Manuel dodged the question.

“No comment,” he smiled.