Leslie’s Lowdown

Inside Phillies baseball

Eaton still searching for answers

Posted by jrfinger on March 10, 2008

Leslie talks baseball on 610-WIP

Adam EatonCLEARWATER, Fla. – Adam Eaton thinks he’s going to be the team’s fifth starter. I don’t see it. It’s only because the Phillies are on the hook for $7.6 million dollars that he’s even in that position in the first place.

After limping through September last season, Eaton was left off the postseason roster. A move even he understood. After an off-season full of rehab and workouts focusing on his core, Eaton came into camp proclaiming he was fit and ready to perform the way a starting pitcher making that much money should perform.

We’ve yet to see it.

Eaton is 0-2 with a 15.75 ERA this spring. He’s shown little to get excited about and in fact, didn’t look much different than the hobbled veteran he was at the end of last year. Suddenly his back hurt. An injury Eaton never mentioned to the team during the off season. Yes, he did receive treatment for his back last year, but the pain always went away.

An MRI done Saturday revealed a slight disc herniation. Eaton threw 41 pitches during a bullpen session on Monday morning in which he felt no discomfort. He’ll throw again Wednesday and thinks he’ll be ready to pitch again on Saturday.

The clock is ticking and while nobody has made much of a case to take over that fifth spot, Eaton hasn’t made a case for why he should keep it. While Eaton may be pain free, Phillies fans won’t be if he doesn’t turn things around in a hurry.

Options
When the Phillies signed Kris Benson it looked like a good idea, but maybe not one that would pan out with Eaton seemingly ready to reclaim his spot in the rotation. Now that Eaton is struggling and Benson is creeping ever so close to game shape, it’s starting to look like a really nice option for the Phillies. Benson may not be ready until late April or early May, but when he is I think he’ll become an integral part of the Phillies’ rotation. Maybe I’m wrong, but I don’t think anyone else will emerge out of nowhere.

Chad Durbin may work his way into the rotation, but Durbin makes more sense in the bullpen to me. What may happen is that Durbin starts the year in the rotation and when Benson is ready Durbin can move back to the bullpen, where he’ll be a long-relief guy along with Ryan Madson. Durbin saw time in both roles last year with the Tigers and had success in both places. His flexibility is a valuable asset.

The other Durbin
Speaking of Durbins, J.D. Durbin started Monday against the Pirates in Bradenton. J.D. is also in the running for that fifth spot, but won’t be soon if he keeps pitching like he did Monday. Durbin gave up 5 runs on 8 hits over 3⅓ innings of work. That means that over the last seven games, every starter not named Myers has struggled to get outs. They say competition is healthy, but the only thing healthy right now seems to be the ERAs of the starting pitcher candidates. OK, maybe bloated is a better word.

Myers update
While so many starters are stuggling, Brett Myers has been on cruise control. Granted he’s been taking on a lot of minor leaguers as the Phillies’ brass watches the others duke it out against big league hitters, but as Myers pointed out, the minor leaguers like to feed on fastballs, and he relies pretty heavily on his fastball.

Myers threw a minor league game at the Carpenter Complex on Monday. He threw 75 pitches over 5⅔ innings. He gave a up a 2-run homer to Jake Blalock in the first inning but after that he settled in. Myers retired the last 12 batters he faced.

He said afterwards that he felt good but is feeling a little sore as he stretches out for the season. Myers hasn’t pitched this many consecutive innings since last April. The kind of soreness he’s feeling is to be expected.

Now if they could just get that many innings out of their other starters.

Lidge update
Brad Lidge threw off the mound on Monday for the first time since knee surgery. He threw 25 pitches and looked good. In a perfect world he could be back by March 31 (Opening Day) and so far, all is perfect. Pitching coach Rich Dubee said he sees that return date as a very real possibility.

If the Phillies need to get by for a few games without Lidge, they’re not worried, nor should they be. Tom Gordon has made a living out of the back end of the bullpen. They’ll be fine. More than just getting Lidge back on the mound, people want to see him get there and stay there without further injury. Can he be the closer he once was? That’s the $6.4 million question.

Too strong
Everyone should stop worrying about Kyle Kendrick … for now. And no, his “trade to Japan” is not, in any way, having an effect on how he pitches when he takes the mound.

As Dubee explained on Sunday, Kendrick is a sinker-ball pitcher and right now his ball isn’t sinking because Kendrick is “too strong right now.” Yes, too strong. If you throw a sinker ball too hard it’s not going to sink. The Phillies got Kyle from Double-A Reading last year after he had 70 or so innings under his belt. Kendrick, like Cole Hamels, isn’t likely to tear it up in spring training because of the way he pitchers.

Kendrick said there’s no reason to be concerned and if you hear him say it, you believe him. He said if it’s still like this in June, then he’ll be concerned. While he’s, to some extent, kidding, I wouldn’t be surprised if it takes him a good month into the season before he really settles down.

R&R
The Phillies get their first and only day off of the Spring on Tuesday. A much needed day of rest. The teams have been going at it pretty hard since mid-February. Chase Utley actually gets two consecutive days of downtime. Utley was the only regular to not make the trip to Bradenton on Monday. Instead Chase stayed behind and worked out at Bright House Field.

We sat down with Utley and talked about a number of things, some on the field stuff, some on the field. When he allows himself, Utley can be very funny. We saw him crack a smile a few times. We’ll bring you that interview Tuesday on SportsNite.

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