Spring Training Preview

Spring Training Preview

As pitchers and catchers assemble in Clearwater, Florida this week, the only real question marks on the Phillies roster are because of injuries. Here's a look at some of what we'll be hearing about out of Clearwater this week.

It's shaping up to be a drama-less spring for the Phillies.

After winning back-to-back National League pennants and retaining the core of their roster, few jobs will be up for grabs when the Phillies begin working out at Bright House Field in Clearwater, Fla. Every position in the starting lineup and each spot on the bench already has been filled.

If not for injuries, the Phillies wouldn't have any decisions at all.

Throughout the spring, questions will linger about the opening-day readiness of closer Brad Lidge, lefty reliever J.C. Romero and left-hander Jamie Moyer, each of whom underwent surgery (more than one surgery, in some cases) during the offseason. If they're not going to be available by the start of the season, it will open opportunities for several in-house candidates, including relievers Antonio Bastardo and Scott Mathieson and fifth-starter option Kyle Kendrick.

"If we knew that J.C. and Brad and Jamie were going to be 100 percent, that would be my druthers right out of the chute," general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. said. "So, obviously, I wish our health was a little bit better."

Otherwise, everything figures to run smoothly in Clearwater, Florida.

New ace pitcher Roy Halladay and new third baseman Placido Polanco were the biggest offseason additions. But the Phillies also overhauled their bench and made changes to the bullpen, two areas that were weaknesses down the stretch and in the playoffs last season.

Gone are pinch-hitter Matt Stairs, utility infielder Eric Bruntlett and backup catcher Paul Bako, replaced by Ross Gload, Juan Castro and Brian Schneider, respectively. Veteran right-handers Danys Baez and Jose Contreras were added to the bullpen, filling the voids left by Chan Ho Park and Brett Myers.

And if Lidge, Romero and Moyer are healthy, the Phillies will have only one job opening - the final spot in the bullpen. Bastardo, a left-hander who had a strong season in the Dominican winter league, is a leading candidate to claim the job with a good spring. But he'll have competition from fellow lefties Sergio Escalona and Mike Zagurski and right-handers Mathieson and David Herndon, who was selected by the Phillies in the Rule 5 draft.

"We looked to try to improve in a couple different areas," Amaro said. "I think we added some depth in our bench, a quality top-of-the-rotation starter (Halladay). Overall, I think our club, if I look at it on paper, I think our club is as good as it was last year. And, hopefully, it'll play better."

WHERE: Bright House Field, Clearwater, Fla. The Phillies have trained in Clearwater since 1948, although this is just their seventh year at Bright House Field. The ballpark's must-see feature: a thatched-roof Tiki bar beyond the left field fence.

TOP CANDIDATE TO SURPRISE: RHP Kyle Kendrick spent most of last season in the minors after winning 21 games in 2007-08, but the Phillies saw improvement in his secondary pitches after he was recalled last September. Now, Kendrick has a chance to return to the rotation by winning the fifth starting job.

TOP CANDIDATE TO DISAPPOINT: LHP Jamie Moyer had three surgeries in four months during the offseason, and although he's hopeful of being ready to make his first regular-season start, the Phillies are taking a more conservative approach. At age 47, Moyer is the oldest player in the majors. How will he bounce back after the injuries? After all, he underwent three surgeries in the past 4 1/2 months, an offseason medical drama from which pitchers half his age may be slow to recover. But Moyer, 47, believes he can be ready to make his first regular-season start.

"I'm kind of in a gray area because I've never been in this type of situation before, but I feel comfortable with where I am right now," Moyer told the Wilmington (Del.) News Journal. "My biggest goal is to stay away from any major setbacks. If I do have a setback, then we'll deal with it. But I have to use my eyes and ears and let my body tell me what to do."

In October, Moyer had surgery to repair two torn tendons in his groin. He twice was hospitalized for blood infections related to the surgery, and in November, he underwent a minor procedure to remove an abscess in his groin. Last month, he had arthroscopic surgery on his right knee. Moyer has resumed throwing off flat ground and said he expects to throw from a mound early in spring training.

AUTHORITY FIGURES: Charlie Manuel has emerged as one of the most successful managers in Phillies history. Only Manuel (2007-09) and Danny Ozark (1976-78) have led the franchise to three consecutive division crowns. Manuel, 66, has a 447-363 record in five seasons for the fifth-best winning percentage (.552) in Phillies history. Manuel's coaching staff, including pitching coach Rich Dubee and hitting coach Milt Thompson, remains intact from 2009.

NEWS, NOTES and QUOTES

-- LHP J.C. Romero appeared in 51 of the final 82 regular-season games after joining the Phillies in 2007. In 2008, he matched his career-high with 81 appearances, fifth most in the NL. So, Romero was missed last season when a 50-game suspension and a midseason elbow injury limited him to 21 games and forced him to undergo surgery on a flexor tendon in October. But at least the Phillies still were able to lean on Scott Eyre to face the NL's top left-handed hitters in the late innings. Eyre retired this winter, leaving Romero as the Phillies' lone veteran lefty reliever. Romero resumed throwing January 17, according to GM Ruben Amaro Jr., but he'll be closely monitored in spring training. If they can't rely on Romero, the Phillies may be shopping for another lefty.

-- Jimmy Rollins will be the Phillies' leadoff hitter on opening day in Washington, but Rollins must exhibit more consistency this season from the top spot in the lineup. Last year, Rollins' .296 on-base percentage was the worst of his career and the lowest in the majors among leadoff hitters with at least 350 at-bats. He also saw the fewest pitches (2,580) of any leadoff man. Of course, Rollins also brings unique power to the leadoff spot. Last season, he had the third-most homers and second-most RBI among leadoff men. And over the past six seasons in the NL, only Albert Pujols has scored more runs (704) than Rollins (676).

-- J.A. Happ went 12-4 with a 2.93 ERA and finished second in the NL Rookie of the Year voting last season. But many statistical analysts who study advanced pitching metrics remain unconvinced that Happ is more than a back-of-the-rotation starter on a contending team. To wit: Bill James, the noted statistical analyst who coined the term "sabermetrics," has projected that Happ will go 10-11 with a 4.31 ERA in 188 innings. But although that would represent a drop-off from his rookie-year success, it would remain an acceptable performance for a number four starter in a good rotation. Ironically, James' projection for Happ is remarkably similar to what Cole Hamels gave the Phillies last season (10-11, 4.32 in 193 2/3 innings).

HE SAID WHAT?  "Because my age is in front of my name, and because that's all some people talk about - 'He's not supposed to be doing this' - that kind of fuels the fire. Not to be disrespectful to people, but I want to show you that I can." - Jamie Moyer, the oldest player in the majors (47), on whether he can come back from a surgery-filled offseason.


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