By Matt Hammond
Two starts in, all was well for Tyler Cloyd. He’d punched back-to-back quality starts in his debut appearances with the Phillies in 2012, for a more-than-reputable 1-1 mark and 2.77 ERA. He’d struck out 14 and walked only 2. By all appearances, Cloyd was, at the very least, serviceable.
Then came start No. 3, what 2013 rookie Jonathan Pettibone will face tonight.
Cloyd was unloaded on by the 98-loss Colorado Rockies for four runs in four innings, taking all his damage in the third. He surrendered four straight hits with two outs. He lasted only 76 pitches.
For the rest of the way, Cloyd’s first-two-start luster was gone. He lasted only three innings his next time out, against the 107-loss Houston Astros, serving as many runs as he tossed frames in that one, too. After seeming bounce-back start against the Mets, Cloyd again buckled, for six runs in five innings to the Washington Nationals. Just like that, Cloyd’s ERA flirted with 5.00.
The same befell then-rookie starter Antonio Bastardo in 2009. Two starts in, he had a 2.45 ERA and struck out nine to two walks. His next time out, the Boston Red Sox smashed him for five runs (four earned) in one inning. After essentially the same unfolded in Tampa two starts later – Bastardo was mauled for six runs in 3 2/3 innings – he was optioned to Triple-A to begin polishing his relief game.
The sample is hardly enough for conclusions. But the fact is, of the four starters to debut for the Phillies since 2007 before Pettibone, two stumbled in their third start after being viable through their first two. The others, Vance Worley and J.A. Happ, were already relegated to the ‘pen by then.
Did they hit a wall? Get figured out? Tough to say.
But Pettibone has hardly fared like they did. His 4.35 ERA ranks 11th of 17 rookie starters this year. His opp BA (.317) is second-worst. Though his BABIP, .379, is also highest, it’s partly because he can’t miss a bat; opponents have the best contact rate on Pettibone (88.9%) than they do any other rookie starter. He’s gotten all but a hardly sustainable 4.5% of his strikes on swings, the lowest among rooks. His first-pitch strike percentage? Worst of the lot. He’s also served the third-most HR/9.
Pettibone’s yet to last more than 5 1/3, despite getting 13 more pitches of leash in start No. 2. The Phillies have won both his starts. Pettibone has also averaged 6.35 runs of support in them.
Pettibone does get Miami tonight, which has plated three or more runs in only 12 of 29 games so far. But his next scheduled starts are vs. the World Champion Giants and 20 runs in two games Indians.
This is less about circumstantial anecdotes than the fact that, while Pettibone’s been OK, he’s yet to be great. And even early “goodness” can fade fast. So if Pettibone begins to slack tonight, or in 5 or 10 days, and if the alternatives’ arms have been stretched, the organization might be best served turning to Adam Morgan or Ethan Martin – or one and then the other – until John Lannan’s return.
Because as well and nice as it’s been, Pettibone in the rotation could get ugly fast.
By Matt Hammond