When Phillies general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. said last October that he wanted his veteran-laden roster to get younger, he probably did not have this in mind.
Already this season, injuries to Chase Utley (knee), Brad Lidge (shoulder), Jose Contreras (elbow) and J.C. Romero (calf) have forced players like Michael Martinez, Antonio Bastardo, Michael Stutes and Kyle Kendrick into greater roles than anybody anticipated at the start of spring training. Yesterday, both of those lists grew longer as the Phillies recalled 23-year-old righthander Vance Worley to start tonight in place of Joe Blanton, who was placed on the 15-day disabled list with a medial impingement in his right elbow.
The news was delivered on a much-deserved off day for the Phillies, who won five of seven games on their recently completed West Coast trip but also sustained injuries to two key players: Contreras, who is expected to miss 3 to 4 weeks with a Grade 1 elbow strain; and catcher Carlos Ruiz, who was scheduled to see team doctor Michael Ciccotti yesterday after leaving Wednesday's game with tightness in his lower back.
Ruiz felt a sharp pain shoot from his lower back down through his right leg after flying out to leftfield in the top of the first inning.
A source close to the situation said the Phillies are not planning to place Ruiz on the disabled list, although they are expected to have an extra catcher from Triple A Lehigh Valley on hand in case of emergency. IronPigs manager Ryne Sandberg told reporters last night that Dane Sardinha will be coming to Philadelphia today. The current thought is that Ruiz will be sidelined for a few days, although that could change.
Because the Phillies are backdating Blanton's appearance on the DL to his last start, he will be eligible to return Sunday, May 8, meaning the Phillies will need Worley to make at least two starts. Whether Blanton's tender elbow requires him to miss more time than that remains to be seen. The Phillies did not offer a timetable on his return when announcing the news.
In 2007, then-Angels righthander Bartolo Colon missed about 7 weeks with an injury that was initially described as an impingement. That same season, Cardinals righthander Chris Carpenter was initially diagnosed with an elbow impingement before eventually undergoing season-ending surgery.
An impingement is an injury that occurs when repeated extension of the arm, such as the type that occurs when a pitcher throws a ball, causes irritation in the soft tissue in the elbow. It can lead to a locking or catching in the elbow during full extension.
The injury is a tough blow for Blanton, who is coming off two straight quality starts against the Brewers and Padres. The 30-year-old righthander struggled in his first two outings, allowing 12 runs in 10 innings against the Mets and Nationals. After holding both the Brewers and Padres to two runs in seven innings, Blanton was 0-1 with a 5.92 ERA in 24 innings.
Worley pitched well in two brief stints with the Phillies last season, first as a reliever in July (he pitched a scoreless inning in his only outing) and then as a reliever/spot starter in September, when he allowed two earned runs with 10 strikeouts and four walks in 12 innings. Ten of those innings came in starts against the Marlins and Braves.
Worley is 2-2 with a 2.78 ERA, 9.9 strikeouts per nine innings and 2.4 walks per nine in four starts (22 innings) for Lehigh Valley. Tonight will be his third big-league start. Last September, Worley started a 7-1 loss to the Marlins in which he allowed two runs on six hits with five strikeouts and one walk in five innings, and a 7-0 win over the Braves in which he allowed one hit and two walks with three strikeouts in five scoreless innings.
Worley entered spring training competing for a spot in the Phillies' bullpen, but struggled with his command and was optioned to Lehigh Valley, where he has pitched very well.
The decision to start Worley tonight against the Mets means Kendrick, who spent last season in the rotation, will remain in the bullpen for the foreseeable future. The 26-year-old righthander has thrown four consecutive scoreless innings, two of them in a 21-pitch outing against the Diamondbacks on Tuesday.
The Phillies are also without Roy Oswalt for the time being, although the veteran righthander still could rejoin the team before Tuesday, when he is scheduled to start against the Nationals. Oswalt is helping his family clean up after a series of deadly tornado-spawning storms swept through his native Misssissippi. According to sources with knowledge of the situation, Oswalt's family was unharmed, although their property suffered extensive damage. The sources said Oswalt's children and their grandparents rode out the storm in a tornado shelter.
Oswalt left the team shortly after his start against the Diamondbacks on Tuesday, flying to Mississippi with his wife, Nicole, who was with him on the road trip.
Despite Blanton's trip to the disabled list, the Phillies have some flexibility with their rotation. Thanks to off days yesterday and Monday, Cole Hamels would be available to pitch on Tuesday with an extra day of rest. Worley could then pitch on Wednesday, followed by Roy Halladay and Cliff Lee on normal rest.
For more Phillies coverage and opinion, read David Murphy's blog, High Cheese, at www.philly.com/HighCheese.
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