Jonathan Pettibone is ready for a battle

Jonathan Pettibone is ready for a battle

Where do Hernandez and Gonzalez fit in Phils' rotation?

January 26, 2014, 12:00 pm
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In 18 starts last season, Jonathan Pettibone went 5-4 with a 4.04 ERA for the Phillies. (AP)

If you take a close look at the Phillies’ starting pitching rotation heading into spring training, there might be one open job.

Regardless of what number you put on them and regardless of whether manager Ryne Sandberg chooses to split them because they are lefties, Cole Hamels and Cliff Lee are locks to start two of the first three games of the season.

With a salary of just over $7.6 million, Kyle Kendrick is being paid like a big-league starter who is a year away from free agency. If healthy, he’s going to be in the rotation.

Ditto for Roberto Hernandez, who turned down chances to pitch elsewhere because of the opportunity the Phillies presented.

“We signed him to start for us,” general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. said earlier this winter.

Health is always an issue that can changes things, but heading into camp there figures to be one open spot in the rotation. The Phillies would love Cuban defector Miguel Alfredo Gonzalez to step up and take the job – and he will be given every chance to do that – but if he fails or proves not to be ready, that’s where Jonathan Pettibone comes in.

Pettibone will enter camp as basically the sixth starter, but he’s conceding nothing.

He will try to win a job as one of the team’s top five starters.

“I’m definitely going to have to battle,” he said during a recent visit to Philadelphia.

Amaro likes that attitude.

“Those guys will be battling,” he said. “We signed Roberto to start for us, but no one is really locked in. I hope they all push each other. (Pettibone) is certainly in the mix for the top 5. It’s up to him to take a job. I expect him to come in looking to win a job.”

The blue print called for Pettibone to spend last season at Triple A, but injuries to the rotation forced the Phillies to bring him to the majors in late April and he ended up making 18 starts. He handled himself well in those 18 starts, allowing three or fewer runs in 15 of them, before a shoulder strain shut him down in late July.

Had Pettibone stayed healthy and finished the season strong, the Phillies might not have needed to sign Hernandez. Pettibone understands why the team had to do it.

“They kind of had to do that to cover themselves, back themselves up,” he said. “I missed the final two months of the season. I didn’t give them any lock going into the offseason.”

Pettibone spent much of the offseason in Clearwater strengthening his shoulder. In fact, he was a frequent workout partner of Gonzalez.

“I feel good now,” Pettibone said. “Going into a season, it’s the best I’ve felt in a while. I’m ready to go.”

The strengthening program should help Pettibone. He averaged less than six innings in his 18 big-league starts last season and – regardless of where he opens the season – will look to go deep into games in 2014.

Pettibone isn’t the only Phillie who saw significant time in 2013 only to see the club bring in more proven guys who play the same position this winter. Darin Ruf may be the odd man out in the outfield after the additions of Marlon Byrd and Bobby Abreu. Pettibone has the same attitude as Ruf: Competition, even within a team, is good. It sharpens everybody.

“Having to battle and having to compete in spring training is good for anyone,” Pettibone said. “Nothing is promised. The competitive nature almost makes you better so I think it’s going to be a good challenge and an exciting challenge and I’m ready to go.”

Chad Gaudin, a non-roster invite to big-league camp, and Ethan Martin, will also get starter’s innings in spring training. Gaudin, who can start or relieve, might end up making the club as a bullpen man. Martin could provide depth in the rotation while continuing to harness his control at Triple A. Regardless, both could end contributing as starters in 2014. The Phillies used 10 starting pitchers in 2013 so inventory is important.