Good morning. The Phillies are in Dunedin today for a 1:05 p.m. game against the Blue Jays. Cliff Lee is scheduled to make his Grapefruit League debut against the Jays' Ricky Romero.
Before we get into our Joe Blanton vs. Roy Oswalt comparison, a few quick notes from yesterday's win over the Yankees:
-Yesterday, we wrote a little bit about Domonic Brown's defense, which has been a focal point for the Phillies for the last few seasons. Even before Brown made his big league debut in 2010, the Phillies had some concerns about his route running in the outfield. Yesterday, he took a circuitous route to a sinking line drive by Brett Gardner, eventually diving behind the ball and allowing it to go to the wall for a triple. This came one day after he allowed a routine fly ball to pop out of his glove against the Yankees in Tampa. When Charlie Manuel was asked about Brown's route yesterday, he moved his hand in an arc to indicate that Brown could have taken a more direct route to the ball. Keep in mind he has spent the majority of his career in right field, moving to left only after he was sent back to Triple-A last July. I tried to get a gauge from Manuel on where, exactly, Brown's defense is right now. With John Mayberry Jr. and Laynce Nix in the fold, the Phillies have two options that more more experienced fielders. But would Brown be a liability in the field? Is his defense so unpolished that he would be unable to field his position for other teams in the majors, even ones that do not have the World Series aspirations that the Phillies do? Manuel didn't really give a straight answer. In essence, his response was, "We're going to continue to watch him." Brown reached base for the third straight game yesterday, going 0-for-2 with a walk. But the fact that he has started three straight games in left field probably isn't a great sign for his stated goal of making the Opening Day roster. There's a good chance the Phillies want to get him as much playing time as possible before minor league games begin on March 12, which usually prompts the beginning of the exodus of players from big league camp. Clearly, Brown needs to be playing every day. When asked how a player can develop the feel for fielding, Manuel responded, "Repetitions." Right now, it looks like those repetitions are going to come at Triple-A.
-Manuel revealed yesterday that Nix has been battling a "tweak" in his groin. He said the veteran left-handed hitter could be in the field today. Still, it's a situation to monitor, because we all know how tricky groin injuries can be.
-Ty Wigginton spent part of yesterday at first base, a position he is expected to see regular playing time at with Ryan Howard on the disabled list. He muffed a sharp ground ball but recovered in time to make the toss to the pitcher covering the bag for the out.
Anyway, back to the original question:
Will the Phillies miss Roy Oswalt this season?
There is no question that the veteran righthander has a more accomplished track record than Joe Blanton. And all of us remember how dominant Oswalt was down the stretch for the Phillies in 2010. But if we are just talking about the difference in production from 2011 to 2012, there is a chance that Blanton not only fills the void, but upgrades the back of the rotation.
Without a doubt, Oswalt was hampered by his back problems last season. But as Manuel might say, that's all part of it. If we are going to raise Blanton's health as an issue, we must do the same when talking about Oswalt. Which pitcher has a better chance at staying healthy this season: the one with a recurring back problem that limited him to 139 innings last year, or the one who suffered his first elbow injury after a durable run through his first six seasons in the majors?
Let's just look at the production.
Here are Oswalt's number from his last 19 starts of last season, compared with Blanton's numbers from his final 19 starts of his last two healthy seasons, 2009 and 2010.
Now, you can make numbers say a lot of different things. But this set of figures at leasts raises the argument that the Phillies got better production out of Blanton in the last three months of 2009 and 2010 than they got out of Oswalt in the last three months of 2011.
One other data set to chew on: The Phillies are 5-4 in Blanton's nine postseason appearances, compared with 2-3 in Oswalt's five postseason appearances. Blanton has posted a 4.23 ERA while holding batters to a .243/.307/.372 line in those appearances. Oswalt has posted a 3.86 ERA with a .258/.302/.423 line in those appearances.
The argument isn't that Blanton is a better pitcher than Oswalt. But if the question is whether Blanton has the ability to replace the production Oswalt gave the Phillies last season, when they won a major-league-best 102 games, then the answer is yes.
Blanton's strikeout and walk ratios over the last three seasons are actually similar to Oswalt's: Both have averaged 7.2 strikeouts-per-nine. Blanton has averaged 2.4 walks-per-nine, compared with Oswalt's 2.2. The one big difference is Blanton's tendency to allow home runs. Since 2009, he has allowed 1.4 home runs per nine innings. At the same time, Blanton has looked as good early on this spring as I remember him looking since he joined the Phillies. Yesterday, all seven of the balls he allowed in play were ground balls, five of them for outs, two of them for singles. He also struck out former teammate Raul Ibanez. Blanton is only 31 years old, and he certainly has financial incentive to perform this season. Keep in mind the Phillies won a World Series with Blanton as their No. 2 or No. 3 starter. In fact, they won all three of his postseason starts in 2008.
This morning's coverage from Clearwater. . .
--Blanton says that he no longer things about the sore elbow that cost him most of last season. Matt Gelb has more on the uncertainty about the righty's health.
--Placido Polanco made his Grapefruit League debut yesterday. But there are still two Phillies regulars missing thus far.