Even before Antonio Bastardo stumbled through a five-run first inning last night - an untidy display matched only by the fielding behind him - it was clear that the Phillies needed to do something about their starting rotation.

Limping along and praying for the best is not a strategy that baseball often rewards, and, hopefully, the front office has something better planned.

At the moment, 40 percent of the rotation that came out of spring training is no longer in the mix. Chan Ho Park was removed after seven ineffective starts and Brett Myers was lost to hip surgery.

Replacing Park, who began the season as the No. 5 starter, wasn't much of an upheaval. The team elevated J.A. Happ to the slot and figured it was just as well off as it had been before.

Replacing Myers, who was expected to be a reliable No. 2 behind Cole Hamels, is another matter. The Phils got by twice after promoting Bastardo, but that luck ran out last night against Boston. Perhaps that outing isn't a fair gauge, but Bastardo doesn't appear to be a long-term solution for this season. He's 23 and may develop into an effective pitcher, but he's also just 13 months removed from single A and unraveled badly against the Sox.

It's one thing to put chewing gum in the hole left by Park, but another to try the same method with the chasm left by the loss of Myers. The Phils need to get another starter, and it has to be an established guy worthy of more than just wishful thinking.

So which guy? Jake Peavy of the Padres doesn't want to leave the West Coast. Plus, he's out for a month because of an ankle injury.

Brad Penny of the Red Sox was an apparent possibility, with infield prospect Jason Donald the supposed bait. But that went nowhere, and now Donald is having surgery to clean out a messy knee.

Either would have been a reasonable fit for what the Phillies need, and there are other pitchers out there. In a way, it doesn't matter. You acquire somebody and take your chances, no matter what, but the odds are better if you get somebody who has already put decent numbers on the back of his card.

The dance the Phillies may be attempting, however, is to wait as long as possible before making their move. It is an understandable strategy. For one thing, all their rotation problems this season - which include very slow, troubling Aprils for Jamie Moyer and Joe Blanton - haven't kept them out of first place.

As you look at the National League East, you have to wonder if the Phillies might not be able to win it just the way they are. Atlanta and Florida are hanging around .500 with little indication either will catch a wave. The Mets are better than that, but have hardly inspired confidence they can win a stare-down with the Phils, either.

Waiting until closer to the trade deadline would accomplish a few things. For one, the team would have to pay less of the pitcher's salary this season and, as the deadline approaches, it becomes more of a buyer's market.

For another, it is possible that one of these stopgap solutions turns into something. Maybe last night was an aberration for Bastardo. Maybe Happ, who has three career wins as a starter and couldn't beat out Park for the job to begin with, will blossom. Maybe the not-so-secret desire of the organization comes true, and young Kyle Drabek leaps all the way to the major-league roster by August or so.

Maybe all of that, and maybe none of that.

But the Phils appear willing to wait and see a little longer, limping along with a No. 1 starter and a sizable gap to the others. They could actually still win the division that way, but winning anything beyond that would be tricky business.

And baseball does not reward teams that try to get by with skimpy pitching, no matter how impressive the offense. The question is how long can you try to fool the game before it gets upset. Usually, not very.

So, on a rainy night in which the Antonio Bastardo era hit a 38-pitch bump in the road, hours before J.A. Happ takes the mound for a hopefully longer outing, the forecast calls for more inclement pitching on the way.

The Phillies know this. They are just trying to figure out how long it can go before they need to really do something about it.

Contact columnist Bob Ford at 215-854-5842 or bford@phillynews.com.