Baseball has always been the oddest of sports, the only team sport
where the game begins when the defense has the ball. It can also
leave people frustrated and bedeviled with its constant twists and
turns, the remnants of a season that is more marathon than all out
Yet, even for phans in PhillieLand who are generally accustomed to
Murphy's Law being the rule rather than the exception, the loss of
four of the teams probable top six hurlers was a blow that left them
in need of replacement hurling auditions...and the quicker the better.
Teams in the middle of a pennant race rarely survive the loss of
Gable, Grant, Neumann and Redford much less Garcia, Lieber, Myers and
Gordon but the team from the City of Brotherly Love was about to find
out if they could accomplish the unlikely.
In the good news-bad news department, two of the leading performers,
Brett Myers and Tom Gordon are rehabbing nicely and might soon return
to center stage by the All-Star break. Not so, the other two leading
actors in this whimsical, wacky off-Broadway production. Both Freddy Garcia and Jon Lieber have likely thrown their last pitches in anger
with the Phils after suffering serious injuries. Oh, the talk for
public consumption is that Garcia holds out hope of returning for the
last act of this 2007 play, but don't believe it for one moment.
This season has always been about Freddy Garcia and his upcoming free
agency and if you are less than inclined to think so, just listen to
him and you will know. Rarely did he even attempt to hide the fact
that Philadelphia was never going to be more than a quick stop on his
way to future fame and fortune elsewhere. Now, with an injury that
will likely lead to arm surgery and an uncertain 2008, he will be even
less inclined to risk further damage by helping a cause he never felt
part of anyhow.
Not so Jon Lieber, who genuinely appeared to enjoy Philadelphia and
was hoping to help the team to its goal of the an Oscar winning
performance in the Octoberfest National League playoffs. However, a
serious foot injury suffered against the Cleveland Indians has
apparently ended his season, and possibly his career. Oh, he may
recover after three months and receive another contract offer
elsewhere, but the demand for 37 year old hurlers coming off serious
injuries is small.
Still, if you are of the opinion that often times a team wins with
addition by subtraction, that might well be the case with the loss of
both Garcia and Lieber. Neither was pitching well this year, both have
probably seen their best years and either of the two can seemingly be
replaced by someone within the Phillie minor league system with nary a
whimper of regret.
Ah, but this is where the story gets a bit more intriguing. While
there may be a Clark Gable or Cary Grant waiting to be discovered, and
quickly, the odds are still stacked in the favor of a B actor more
likely to exit stage left. The key will be finding the right
"performer", one unlikely to develop stage fright at the sight of the
New York Mets or Atlanta Braves. With this in mind, and with
auditions filling up rapidly, let’s take a more in depth look at the
men who would be kings.
Of course, our first auditioning performer has already made a few
appearances in front of a live audience with seemingly positive
reviews. Kyle Kendrick, a wonderful athlete who turned down a
football scholarship to Washington State to sign with the Phillies,
has already turned in two solid performances against Chicago and
Cleveland with audition number three coming this week against the
Should Kendrick continue to display the poise and aplomb befitting his
new resident status, he well could inherit one of the two permanent
positions now left by the departed Garcia and Lieber. Still, this is
baseball and not the movies, and in this game of real life,
yesterday's leading man can quickly become today’s oft forgotten
At 22 years of age, Kyle Kendrick must still show that he can not only
read an ever changing script, but react to performers who have no
inclination to help him become Philadelphia's...next leading man.
However, should he continue to display the perseverance of a man not
easily dissuaded by sudden leading man status, he may earn the right
to perform center stage through the rest of the 2007 season.
Another interesting performer, one who unfortunately has entered the
arena several times before to less than mixed reviews is right-hander
J.D. Durbin, scheduled to make his audition on Friday night against those vaunted New York Mets. Durbin is a fascinating character actor, one who rather cavalierly dubbed himself "The Real Deal" before he had even seen his name on the program.
Needless to say, three other organizations found his performances less
than scintillating as this year alone he bounced from the Minnesota Twins to the Arizona Diamondbacks to the Boston Red Sox and ultimately
to the Philadelphia Phillies. Admittedly, all three of his previous
employers saw something to like in his early reviews, things like a
crackling fastball of between 92-94 MPH and a curveball that was rated
the best in the International League by rival manager last year.
Even better yet, he seemed a winner at the minor league level if ever
there was one, and he entered the '07 season with a 47-22 lifetime
record away from the maddening crowd of the major leagues. Yet, stage
fright seems to have forever gripped J.D. Durbin as he has failed
miserably in auditions in Minnesota and Arizona. The desert state
performance was a particularly ghastly one...seven, count ‘em, seven
earned runs in a mere one third of an inning pitched.
Needless to say, this will not show well to the demanding masses at
Citizens Bank Park but in his favor, Durbin has been throwing very
well in his last five starts at Triple-A Ottawa and seems to have
conquered his control issues somewhat to the tune of 20 strikeouts and
a mere 10 walks during the past 30 innings of work.
Should Durbin succeed, it would be a rather blooming feather in the
cap of Phillie GM Pat Gillick, a man who could really use some bloom
in his plume right about now after facing almost constant slings and
arrows for the Garcia trade charade. Gillick had seen Durbin pitch in
the minor leagues with Minnesota and has always liked his "stuff."
The Phils remain hopeful that Friday night against the Mets does not
result in another disappointing ending to a promising beginning for
young Mr. Durbin.
Ironically enough, the stage will not be empty for long regardless of
how well Durbin performs on Friday night because immediately the
following day, yet another pitcher with an impressive resume will
attempt to win over the masses and become Philadelphia's...next leading
His name is J.A. Happ and few pitchers in the entire Phillie pharm
system are as well liked and popular as is Happ. Ever since he was
drafted out of Northwestern University in 2003 as a third rounder,
scouts and coaches alike have been predicting success for this tall,
lanky southpaw. His ascent up the minor league ladder has been swift
and solid, though he has displayed an alarming inability to win games,
albeit after quite strong outings.
Going into the 2007 campaign, Happ had started 50 games at various
locales such as Batavia, Lakewood, Reading, Clearwater and Scranton.
His overall record was a mere 16-15 although his pitching has been
always steady if not downright spectacular. Even this season, in 13
starts at Ottawa, his record is but 1-2, though he has a sterling 67
strikeouts in 63 innings pitched and an acceptable 4.02 ERA.
J.A. Happ remains one of the best pitching prospects in the entire
organization, a stylish lefty with an acceptable fastball, and a very
nasty changeup. Ultimately, it will be the curveball that decides
whether or not he has the "leading man" qualities that many in the
Phillie system believe. Happ will probably get a quick recall between
games of the double header on Friday and start the Mets game on
With Durbin and Happ pitching back to back days, the chances are
excellent that "to the winner goes the spoils" and the hurler who
exhibits better stage presence in their initial audition at Citizens
Bank Park will be scheduled for a repeat performance next week. The
loser will probably go back to Ottawa and await an encore audition.
The Phils can only hope that among the candidates Kendrick, Durbin and
Happ at least one of them will emerge as a suitable next leading man
in the Phillie rotation but should Murphy's Law rear its seeming ever
present head at some point in the near future, the team does not lack
for other suitable peformers.
Currently perfecting their acts at Reading in the Double-A Eastern
League are left-hander Matt Maloney and right-hander Carlos Carrasco.
The short term prospects certainly favor Durbin and Happ but for long
term desirability, Maloney and Carrasco are probably more suited to
hear the phrase ‘on with the show’.
Much like Happ, Maloney is a former college standout lefty, who was
drafted in the third round, Happ in '04 and Maloney in '05. Also like
Happ, Maloney is a tall southpaw with less than overpowering stuff but
the poise of a seasoned pro. Unlike Happ however, Maloney has shown
the ability to win at the minor league level and not just pitch
Last season at Lakewood, Maloney formed one-third of a devastating trio
of standout twirlers [Carrasco and Josh Outman were the others] and
won 16 games in a mere 27 starts for the club. He displays an 86-88
MPH fastball with lots of movement and a curveball that breaks down
and in when he controls it well. His slider is so far an off and on
pitch and may ultimately decide whether or not Maloney ends up as a
long lasting center stage starting pitcher with the Phillies.
This season at Reading, Maloney is 6-6 in 16 starts, with a decent
3.86 ERA and 78 strikeouts in 93 innings pitched. At this stage of
his career, the Phils are not attuned to rushing his development but
should Kendrick, Durbin and Happ all fall from center stage, Maloney
may receive the next audition.
Still, if there truly is a future Gable or Grant lurking in the
Philadelphia pharm system, the chances are that his real name is
Carlos Carrasco, the prime jewel in the entire organization. Rated by some as the top prospect in the Phillie minors, Carlos Carrasco is a 20 year old, 6'3" righty from Venezuela who was signed as an amateur free
agent in 2003.
Since then, his ascent through the system has been swift, if not
without the normal pitfalls of a teenager learning their trade in a
foreign land. After a strong rookie campaign in the Gulf Coast League
in the summer of 2004, Carrasco struggled badly in 2005, with a
combined 1-10 record at Lakewood and Batavia. Far from being
overwhelmed however, the Phils continued to display patience with the
youngster and this patience was rewarded last season to the tune of a
12-6 record, and a miniscule 2.26 ERA for the stylish righty hurler.
His delivery is compact and he currently has two devastating pitches,
a fastball that reaches 93-94 MPH and arguably the best changeup in
the entire system. Carrasco opened the '07 campaign at Clearwater but
so dominated with a 6-2 record and a 2.84 ERA in 12 starts that he was
promoted to Reading last week. He won his first start with five strong
innings of one-run baseball and could earn a spot on the Phils next
leading man audition sheet should he continue to dominate minor league
Currently, the Phils plan is to keep the standout righty at Reading
for the rest of the summer and promote him to Ottawa in Triple-A next
year. It will be no surprise if he is in the Phils starting rotation
sometime next summer, unless the Phils should somehow deem him as
their chosen "next leading man" this year. Stay tuned.
Although Kendrick, Durbin, Happ, Maloney and Carrasco are the names
now being bantered about when young starting pitchers are being
discussed in PhillieLand, I would be remiss not to mention two former
leading actors, who fell from grace due to injury and are nearly ready
to reestablish themselves as leading men candidates.
One is Brett Myers, the hurler who was a Cary Grant candidate if ever
there was one this year. So much so in fact that he was the opening
day "leading man" and one counted on for 15-17 wins this season.
Still, eventually the sins of others led to his relocation to the
bullpen whereupon an arm injury left him unable to perform.
Brett Myers is nearly healthy again and although the company line for
public consumption is that he will remain in the bullpen, the odds
favor his return to the limelight of starting pitcher. Truth be told,
the Phils probably cannot win a playoff berth without Myers and Cole Hamels leading the way and the reason he is possibly been so slow to
return is that the team is strengthening his arm for the stretch run of
August and September.
Unless Kendrick, Durbin and Happ shine in their early auditions, watch
for Brett Myers back and doing what he does best...start games.
Probably sometime in July unless Murphy decides to invoke his Law once
again on the poor populace of PhillieLand.
Equally intriguing is the name Scott Mathieson, last year’s candidate
for...next leading man. Mathieson was better than any pitching
prospect not named Cole Hamels last year and eventually found himself
right in the middle of the Phillie rotation last August. He even
defeated the World Champion St. Louis Cardinals last summer.
His fairytale story ended badly however as he suffered a devastating
arm injury last September and eventually needed Tommy John shoulder
surgery. The prognosis was always good however, and the whispers
filtering out of Clearwater, Florida is that Mathieson is once again
throwing with low 90's velocity and a target date of mid-August for
At this stage of the play, any performance by Mathieson in '07 would
be a welcome one and although it is unlikely that he can audition for
this years "next leading man" he might do well in a secondary role or
Cameo appearance. Mathieson, at his best, has a mid 90's fastball,
devastating curveball and effective slider. Watch for him to perform
soon at a theater near you.
So, the lights are now about to dim, the audience is prepared to take
their seats, and the Phillies newest cherubim are about to commence
their newly seasoned acts. The crowd is unlikely to be forgiving of
any slip ups in performance, this being Philadelphia after all.
However, this as yet historical city always has had a soft spot in its
heart for young and heroic character actors, names like Jefferson,
Franklin and Washington. Certainly, Philadelphia can still find
itself more than willing to embrace a Kendrick, Durbin or Happ should
they soon become the Phillies...next leading man.
Columnist's Note: Please email all questions and comments to firstname.lastname@example.org and I will respond. Thank you! CD from the Left Coast