Halladay’s woes put focus on pitching depth like Cook, Lopez

Halladay’s woes put focus on pitching depth like Cook, Lopez

March 14, 2013, 6:00 pm
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CLEARWATER, Fla. – So who is this team’s sixth starter?

With Roy Halladay feeling “lethargic,” this has suddenly become an important question at Phillies camp.

At this point of spring training, the two most likely candidates are a pair of veteran righthanders, Aaron Cook and Rodrigo Lopez.

As fate would have it, both were on the mound yesterday against the Pittsburgh Pirates. Cook pitched scoreless ball for three innings, Lopez for two in a 2-1 win over the Pirates.

The Phillies signed both pitchers to minor-league deals because it is crucial for a team to have starting pitching depth. The Phils have learned that untold times in recent years, including 2009 when Lopez was signed to a minor-league deal in March and came to the majors later that season and won three games. The Phils, of course, went to the World Series that year. The 2011 season offered another example of the importance of starting pitching depth when Vance Worley plugged the hole for injured Roy Oswalt. He won 11 games during that 102-win season and finished third in the NL rookie of the year voting.

“Depth is always important and with Cook and Lopez we feel we have it, for sure,” pitching coach Rich Dubee said. “We also feel we have some young kids knocking on the door.”

Those young kids – Jonathan Pettibone, Ethan Martin and Adam Morgan – are not ready yet. Tyler Cloyd is another pitcher who can provide starting depth.

But if the Phils were to need a starter right now, it would likely be Cook or Lopez, who between them have made 439 big-league starts.

As much as Phillies officials like having Cook and Lopez around, they are hoping they don’t need them in the rotation any time soon. However, it would be naïve not to recognize that they could be needed in the near future if concerns about Halladay continue to grow. The 35-year-old righthander has had trouble cranking up and locating his fastball. That translated into an alarm-sounding pounding by Detroit on Tuesday.

Halladay says he’s healthy, but he said the same thing last spring only to eventually admit to back and shoulder problems. The two-time Cy Young winner will make his next start Sunday against Baltimore. If his problems continue, you could hear a lot more about Cook and Lopez.

If the Phils open the season with the projected rotation of Halladay, Cole Hamels, Cliff Lee, Kyle Kendrick and John Lannan, they could stash both Cook and Lopez at Triple A, though they would have to pay Cook a $100,000 retention bonus on March 26. It’s also possible that one of the pitchers could end up making the club as a long reliever.

That would be fine with both guys.

“I just want to pitch in the big leagues,” said Cook, who is 76-79 with 4.60 ERA in 256 big-league games, mostly with Colorado. “I’ll take the ball whenever they give it to me.”

“Yeah, I’d eat some innings,” Lopez said of going to the bullpen.

So far this spring, Cook has made four multi-inning appearances and three of them have been scoreless. Lopez has made three multi-inning appearances and all have been scoreless.

Cook, 34, has been plagued by injuries the last three seasons and his ERA hasn’t been under 5.00 while pitching for Colorado and Boston. He had a 5.65 ERA in 18 starts with the Red Sox last season. A sinkerballer, Cook must keep the ball down to have success. He believes a return to good health will help him do that. He got five groundball outs in three innings Thursday.

Lopez, 37, relies mostly on change of speeds to keep hitters off balance. He allowed three hits in two innings Thursday, but minimized damage by rolling a key double play to get out of the fourth.

Cook and Lopez actually made things look easy in their combined five innings of work.

Phillies officials would love it to be that easy for Roy Halladay on Sunday.

The game

Pete Orr’s solo home run off former Phillie Mike Zagurski in the bottom of the eighth provided the margin of victory.

Chase Utley’s bat continues to warm. He hit the ball hard with a double and a single.

Closer Jonathan Papelbon breezed through the sixth inning with a pair of strikeouts. Afterward he said he was tired (because it’s that time of spring training), but healthy.

Kyle Kendrick made his scheduled start in a Triple A game at the minor-league complex. He allowed four hits and two unearned runs while walking one and striking out three in five innings. He threw 73 pitches.

Up next

The Phillies travel to Port Charlotte to play the Tampa Bay Rays on Friday afternoon. John Lannan and Matt Moore are the starting pitchers.

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