Three relievers battle for one opening

Trio of relievers vying for one spot in 'pen

CLEARWATER, Fla. -- Ricardo Rodriguez appeared a tad rusty throwing live batting practice on Wednesday, a likely symptom of this being the early part of Spring Training.

A day earlier, hard-throwing Julio Santana looked sharp blowing fastballs by Ryan Howard, though the slugger later redeemed himself by smacking one over the left-field fence.

Meanwhile, Geoff Geary and Rob Tejeda are exhibiting the similar talent they displayed last season, when they contributed to the Phillies' playoff charge.

One must also not forget Chris Booker, Eude Brito and Yoel Hernandez.

It's the time of the spring when jobs are there for the taking and contenders line up for them. The Phillies' bullpen is no exception.

"We brought in a lot of guys, and it's important to see them in Spring Training," said manager Charlie Manuel. "Our roster isn't set. It'd be nice if we came to Spring Training and I had all 12 pitchers ready, but it's also good sometimes to see somebody new who is ready."

Manuel insists on carrying 12 pitchers on the 25-man roster, and Tom Gordon, Arthur Rhodes, Rheal Cormier and Aaron Fultz are guaranteed spots. That leaves three jobs open.

The number has realistically been reduced to two, since Santana signed an $800,000 guaranteed contract over the winter and appears to have a lock on one of the jobs.

Geary also appears to have a job wrapped up after showing the Phillies enough last season, when he compiled a 3.72 ERA and struck out 42 in 58 innings.

Assuming Geary's remaining Minor League options don't get in the way -- the club can send him to the Minors without the risk of losing him to another team -- that leaves one spot left, and it appears to be an interesting three-horse race among Booker, Rodriguez and Tejeda.

"I want to see them all throw," Manuel said. "I'm curious to see what they can do."

Booker's throwing debut has been slowed by a left knee injury. He had surgery in the offseason, experienced soreness during his rehabilitation, and been limited to light jogging and long-tossing. He hasn't been cleared him to throw off a mound.

spring training 2006
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Booker racked up impressive strikeout numbers last year at Triple-A Louisville, whiffing 91 batters in 65 innings. If he doesn't remain on Philadelphia's 25-man roster all season, he must be offered back to the Nationals, the team that lost him in the Rule 5 Draft.

Rodriguez, the pitcher the Phils acquired from the Rangers for Vicente Padilla, has no Minor League options, meaning he'd have to pass through waivers before he can be sent to the Minors. The Phillies are intrigued by the righty, who sees himself as a rotation candidate, but may wind up in the bullpen.

"I've never been a bullpen guy," Rodriguez said. "I'm fighting to make the staff. If [the bullpen] is what I'm fighting for, I hope they tell me, so I can prepare."

"I always liked Rodriguez," Manuel said. "He has good stuff. He's young, so I think it's a matter of maturing. We're looking at Rodriguez as a starter first."

As for Tejeda, the Phillies are concerned about his ability to throw strikes consistently in a relief role, and may view him as a starter. If so, he could win up starting at Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, where he'd be stretched out and ready in case of an injury. The fact that he has Minor League options doesn't help his cause of making the team this spring.

No matter which direction they go on the personnel, Manuel is certain to take 12 pitchers.

Why?

"Same reason as last year," Manuel said. "We need depth in our staff. At 12, I feel more secure. When the day comes around when we can have 11, we'll be better. Now we have 12."

Ken Mandel is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.