This was originally supposed to be a series of blog posts designed to last throughout a humdrum week of games against the Nationals and Pirates. But, alas, my blog posts are the west Asian land wars of cyberspace, destined to become interminable quagmires regardless of intention.
It started with a simple hypothesis: Kyle Kendrick will start against the Pirates Saturday and Vance Worley will start against the Mariners in Seattle on June 18. It ended with me muttering like Rain Man at a notebook full of John Nash's computations and then 12 hours later waking up from a dream in which I was asking Charlie Manuel a series of questions about the value of John Mayberry Jr.'s ability to play center field and first base. Meanwhile, across the nation's capital, thousands of 9-to-5'ers are slogging their way to work after actually having enjoyed the true meaning of Memorial Day: grilled meats and slurred toasts about Osama bin Laden's corpse.
Long story short, this is what I figured: Everything is connected.
Over the next three days, the Phillies will have several decision to make that will set the stage for their final 30-game charge to the All-Star Break.
The first decision was made yesterday, when they optioned Vance Worley to Triple-A Lehigh Valley. As you might expect, Worley did not pop a bottle of champagne and flick stacks of $100 dollar bills into the air in the clubhouse when informed of the move. It's tough being a 23-year-old pitcher who thinks that all he needs is an extended opportunity to establish himself as a reliable member of a big league rotation. We saw this in 2008 with J.A. Happ, when he made two solid spot starts in early-July, then was sent back to the minors, then returned in early August to allow four runs in two innings of relief, then was optioned back to the minors again.
That situation was slightly different than this one, in that the Phillies rotation featured guys like Jamie Moyer, Adam Eaton and Kyle Kendrick instead of guys like Roy Oswalt, Cliff Lee and Roy Halladay. So the message relayed to Worley by Charlie Manuel and Rich Dubee should ring even truer to Worley than it did to Happ. The best thing for the Phillies right now is to have Worley in the minors pitching every fifth day while regaining the rhythm he displayed against the Mets and Nationals in early May. And, really, it's probably the best thing for Worley, even though it does not feel that way right now. Nobody wants to walk out of a workplace in front of one's peers after having been demoted, especially when that demotion results in the loss of first-class travel and a $2,400-a-day salary. But the Phillies are entering a portion of their schedule in which they will be juggling their rotation to serve the proven pitchers who fill its first four slots, and as I will hopefully demonstrate in a million words or less, Worley's spot will be very much in flux. If he had given the Phillies reason to think he would not be affected by the inconsistency of the ensuing schedule, they might have kept him around. But they clearly think he is better off pitching regularly. So, like a young High Cheese staring at his plate of asparagus while a soft summer evening sun beckons from outside the kitchen window, Worley's best move is to focus on eating those awkward-looking stalks and trust that the benefits of doing so are not as far in the future as they may seem.
Which, of course, brings us to the Phillies' rotation, and Kyle Kendrick starting against the Pirates, and the puzzling situation involving John Mayberry Jr. and Ben Francisco and Michael Martinez.
This is the most logical way for the next month-plus to play out:
1. Kyle Kendrick starts against the Pirates on Saturday
Yes, there is an off day on Thursday. Yes, the Phillies could go without a fifth starter until Tuesday, June 7. But the most logical scenario keeps the rotation in order. Regardless of how Dubee juggles things, no member of the Big Four will be able to get more than seven starts in between now and the All-Star Break. That does not change even if the Phillies go without a fifth starter until June 7. The only variables are the teams who those starters faced and the number of days of rest they face them on.
The Phillies are coming off a stretch of 20 games and 20 days. Cliff Lee and Cole Hamels have all made five straight starts on normal rest. Roy Halladay has made six straight. Roy Oswalt has only made two, thanks to a 20-day injury/tornado layoff). Eight of Hamels' 11 starts this season have come without an extra day. Seven of Halladay's 12 have come without an extra day. And five of Lee's 11 have come without an extra day (It will be 6 of 12 after tonight).
Last season, the longest stretch Halladay went without an extra day of rest of six starts.
So now is a logical time to give each starter one of the extra days of rest that they will get at some point between now and the All-Star Break.
Hamels will be on five days rest at Pittsburgh on Friday. Kendrick will pitch Saturday. Halladay will pitch at Pittsburgh on Sunday on five days rest. Lee will pitch against the Dodgers Monday on five days rest. And Oswalt will face L.A. on Tuesday on five days rest.
From there, the rotation sets up nicely for the Phillies:
2) Hamels, Halladay and Lee will face the second-place Marlins in their four-game series June 14-16. Kendrick will pitch the fourth game stacked up with Halladay in the double header on June 15.
3) Halladay, Lee and Oswalt will face the first-place Cardinals in St. Louis June 21-23. Each of those three starters will be operating on an extra day of rest at the time.
4) Lee, Oswalt and Hamels will face the first-place Red Sox at Citizens Bank Park June 28-30. Each of them will be operating on an extra day of rest at the time. Lee and Hamels both dominated the Sox the last time they faced them. Oswalt, interestingy enough, has never faced Boston.
5) Here's my favorite part: Roy Halladay will get the start at the Rogers Centre for the first game of the Phillies' three-game series against his old team in Toronto. And get this -- Halladay's start will come on July 1.
Anybody know the significance? Anybody? Anybody BESIDES you, Mr. Orr?
Shoots playful look at bald-headed student in the IronPigs jersey waving hand frantically while straining out of desk in front row.
That's right: July 1 is Canada Day, a jubilant celebration where adults wave Maple Leaf banners and teenagers play hockey on still-frozen ponds and three-year-olds watch fireworks with sippy-cups of Labatt Blue.
Roy Halladay returning to Toronto to face the Blue Jay on Canada Day? Don't let Rich Dubee's gruff exterior or stuborn insistence on playing from the blue tees fool you: the man has a flair for the dramatic.
6) To recap: Starting tonight, the Big Four will start 29 of the 35 games before the All-Star Break. Oswalt, Hamels and Halladay will finish that stretch in a three-game series in Florida July 4-6. The Big Four will start all six of the Phillies' games against World Series contenders Boston and St. Louis. Six of the Phillies' seven games against the second-place Marlins will be started by the Big Four.
7) That brings us back to the Vanimal. Assuming Worley pitches every fifth day, he will start for Lehigh Valley on June 3, 8 and 13. Hopefully, by that point, he will have cleared his head and rediscovered the command of his fastball that made him so effective against the Mets and the Nationals. He will be in such a groove that five days later the Phillies will call on him to make a spot start against the Mariners in Seattle. That spot start is necessary because of the double-header against the Marlins.
8) The fifth starter will make five starts between now and the end of the All-Star Break: Pittsburgh, who Kendrick dominated last season, the Cubs, who only have two left-handed bats in Carlos Pena and Kosuke Fukudome, the Marlins, who he has had good games and bad games against, the Athletics, who have scored an AL-low 190 runs this season, and the Blue Jays. Whether Worley pitches his way into consideration for the final couple of those starts remains to be seen.
9) Now, what does all of this have to do with John Mayberry Jr.? Well, now that I'm two volumes into this missive, and because Matt Gelb awaits my arrival for lunch in the hotel lobby, I realize that is going to have to be a separate blog post after all. In a nutshell, though, there might be a chance that the Phillies are thinking about using Kendrick as sort of a fifth starter/long reliever swing man so that they can go with 11 pitchers and not have to part with a position player when Shane Victorino is activated from the disabled list on Friday. Parting with Mayberry would mean sacrificing their best defensive outfielder, including their primary back-up to Shane Victorino, as well as their only healthy back-up first baseman (given Ross Gload's hip injury), not to mention one of the few right-handed power bats ont he roster. Parting with Ben Francisco would require parting with a guy who has much more of a track record than Mayberry, and who has been swinging the bat pretty well over the last week. Parting with utility man Michael Martinez would require them offering him back to the Nationals, not to mention parting with much-needed infield depth. And parting with Domonic Brown just ain't gonna happen (again, another blog post).
Problem is, the Phillies had 12 pitchers on the roster and Danys Baez still ended up throwing 73 pitches in a game. That was an anomaly, but an extra active reliever seems to have more day-to-day value than an extra active bench player. Point a gun to my head (please don't), and I'd say the Phillies end up optioning Mayberry on Friday, content to sacrifice defense for a night if something were to happen to Victorino or Ryan Howard. But again, we'll expand on that in a forthcoming post (in other words, find yourselves another blog to read for the next week).
Anyway, here's the rundown of the rotation as best I can project from now until the All-Star Break:
With Days of Rest in Parantheses
May 31 at Was - Lee (4)
June 1 at Was - Oswalt (4)
June 2 - OFF - OFF
June 3 at Pit - Hamels (5)
June 4 at Pit - Kendrick
June 5 at Pit - Halladay (5)
June 6 vs Lad - Lee (5)
June 7 vs Lad - Oswalt (5)
June 8 vs Lad - Hamels (4)
June 9 vs Chi - Kendrick (4)
June 10 v Chi - Halladay (4)
June 11 v Chi - Lee (4)
June 12 v Chi - Oswalt (4)
June 13 - Off - OFF
June 14 v Fla - Hamels (5)
June 15 v Fla - Halladay (4)
June 15 v Fla - Kendrick (5)
June 16 v Fla - Lee (4)
June 17 a Sea - Oswalt (4)
June 18 a Sea - WORLEY
June 19 a Sea - Hamels (4)
June 20 - Off - OFF
June 21 a Stl - Halladay (5)
June 22 a Stl - Lee (5)
June 23 a Stl - Oswalt (5)
June 24 v Oak - Hamels (4)
June 25 v Oak - Kendrick (9)
June 26 v Oak - Halladay (4)
June 27 - Off - OFF
June 28 v Bos - Lee (5)
June 29 v Bos - Oswalt (5)
June 30 v Bos - Hamels (5)
July 1 at Tor - Halladay (4)
July 2 at Tor - Kendrick (6)
July 3 at Tor - Lee (4)
July 4 vs Fla - Oswalt (4)
July 5 vs Fla - Hamels (4)
July 6 vs Fla - Halladay (4)
I fully expect the Phillies to make an announcement today or tomorrow that renders all of this incorrect and makes me look like a dolt. But, as Cliff Lee would say: Whatever.