THE PHILLIES' 63rd spring in Clearwater is over, and it was one of the most predictable camps in recent memory. The weather was almost uniformly good. The crowds were unfailingly large. The grouper at Frenchy's was consistently excellent. And nearly every day, part of the story line involved the battle for the job of fifth starter.

It all seemed like pretty important stuff, and when veteran righthander Chan Ho Park was given the nod over young lefty J.A. Happ, it was treated like a momentous event.

Here are a couple of thoughts to mull over, though.

One is that that nearly a third of all fifth starters, nine out of 30, when last season opened went on to make fewer than 10 starts during the regular season.

The other is that, compared with a lot of teams, the Phillies could hardly go wrong when picking between Park (2.53 Grapefruit League earned run average) and Happ (3.15 ERA before being told that he would open either in the bullpen or Triple A Lehigh Valley).

If starting pitching remains the backbone of a team's hopes for a competitive summer, the Phillies could have drawn a name out of a green St. Patrick's Day cap and still been better off than a lot of teams.

Take, for example, the Kansas City Royals, whose 3-4-5 starters are expected to be Kyle Davies, Sidney Ponson and Horacio Ramirez. Over the last 3 years, among all pitchers with at least 200 innings pitched, each ranks among the 10 worst in ERA.

Or how about the Orioles? Their fourth starter appears to be Adam Eaton. Enough said.

Consider the Blue Jays. "We've lost three quality starters and you know you can't replace that overnight. We're hoping our pitching is competitive, but we can't pretend it's going to be as good as last year," manager Cito Gaston said in a burst of candor that is nowhere to be found in the team's promotional literature.

Take the Padres, who have added five pitchers from other teams since the start of spring training who figure to be on their Opening Day roster.

There's a lot of bad pitching out there. So much that, put in perspective, the Phillies' big decision doesn't seem so big after all, does it?


* An improved camera system to monitor ball-and-strike calls will be used in all 30 ballparks this season, according to the New York Times, replacing the often-criticized QuesTec. Called Zone Evaluation, it's supposed to rate an umpire's performance more quickly and accurately.

* Nomar Garciaparra will become the first member of the Oakland A's to wear No. 1 since manager Billy Martin in 1982.

* Dodgers third baseman Casey Blake named his new son George. He said it's "kind of" after country-music superstar George Strait.

The hot corner

* Look for Dodgers closer Jonathan Broxton to use his 100-mph fastball inside more this season, part of a plan to keep hitters honest. "People won't dive at every pitch," he explained.


* An unnamed major league executive, to the Washington Post, on why free agent Pedro Martinez remains unsigned even though he estimates Martinez would upgrade the rotation of two-thirds of the teams in baseball: "There's someone who hasn't gotten the message, or else refuses to play by the new rules. [His reported asking price of] $6 million is not something that makes sense anymore."

* Juan Pierre, the odd man out in the Dodgers' outfield, on wanting to be traded: "I just have to be patient. I feel something will happen. I have faith something will happen. Hopefully sooner than later, but I'm prepared either way."

By the numbers

* 255: Career starts for Blue Jays ace Roy Halladay, almost four times as many as the rest of the Toronto starting rotation combined.

* .460: Exhibition batting average of Mariners first baseman Chris Shelton. But it wasn't good enough to keep him from being sent to Triple A Tacoma.


Bonine wasn't supposed to make the team. But he did, after allowing just one run in 10 exhibition outings. So on Wednesday he got to give his mother the good news. And, he said, he used her illness as motivation.

"Baseball is a release," he told the Detroit Free Press. "I'm out here and I can compete. I know if I'm doing great, it's making her smile."

Bonine is hoping his mother is feeling well enough to go to California when the Tigers play there early this season. What a nice story. *

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When Tigers righthander Eddie Bonine drove from Arizona to Florida at the start of spring training, his mother came along for the ride. The two enjoyed spending the 3 days together because Danelle Eckman was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2006 and the disease has since spread. * 12.46: Final Cactus League ERA of Indians lefthander Cliff Lee, the reigning AL Cy Young Award winner. * Yankees manager Joe Girardi, on the breathless and hyperbolic observation that he could be facing more pressure going into this season than any manager or head coach in professional sports history: "I'd have to say that's a pretty fair statement." * The Miami Herald says shortstop Hanley Ramirez is upset by new team rules forbidding long hair and jewelry on the field. He said that the chain he has worn for years has religious connotations and "it's not like my hair was hanging down below my [butt]."

* Braves third baseman Chipper Jones turns 37 later this month and hasn't played in more than 137 games since 2003. So before he signed that 3-year, $42 million extension, general manager Frank Wren talked to him about the importance of stretching and other preventive measures to avoid injuries.