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Phillies need Halladay to come back strong

Philadelphia is counting on ace right-hander to anchor rotation in 2013

Phillies need Halladay to come back strong

PHILADELPHIA -- The angst is palpable among Phillies fans.

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Spring Training will not be like recent camps in Clearwater, Fla., where the Phils started the year as the prohibitive favorite to win not only the National League East, but also the NL pennant and World Series. There will be no pomp and circumstance when pitchers and catchers hold their first workout Wednesday, no news conferences with one of the greatest rotations ever assembled. No -- following a third-place finish in 2012, the shine is off. The Phillies only have questions to answer, and until they are, the so-called experts and prognosticators have the Nationals and Braves as the top teams in the NL East.

But that should not bother the Phillies. Last winter, everybody called the Angels and Marlins the clear-cut winners of the offseason. Neither team made the playoffs, and few saw the Nats, Orioles or the A's making the postseason.

Maybe things will break Philadelphia's way and the club can surprise a few people this year. Maybe they don't.

But it's February. Nobody knows exactly what will happen. The only thing the Phils know is that camp opens next week.

Here is a look at some of the storylines and players worth watching at Bright House Field this spring.

Pitchers and catchers first workout

Feb. 13.

Full squad first workout

Feb. 16.

First Spring Training game

Home vs. Astros, Feb. 23 at 1:05 p.m. ET

Opening Day

Away vs. Braves, April 1 at 7:10 p.m. ET

Triple play: Three questions that need answers

1. Can Roy Halladay still be one of the best pitchers in baseball?
Halladay, 35, struggled last season because of back and shoulder issues. He had a 4.49 ERA in 25 starts, his worst ERA since a 10.64 ERA in 19 appearances (13 starts) with the Blue Jays in 2000. Was it a one-year thing? Or have the 2,687 1/3 innings Halladay has pitched in the big leagues finally caught up to him? The Phillies claim Halladay looks and feels good following a revamped offseason training program, but the proof will be on the mound. If Halladay returns to form, Philadelphia should have one of the top rotations in baseball again. If he doesn't, the club will have to lean heavily on Cole Hamels and Cliff Lee, and hope that Kyle Kendrick and John Lannan pitch consistently enough to keep them competitive.

2. Is Chase Utley really healthy?
The Phillies speak as optimistically about Utley as they speak about Halladay. But again, the proof is on the field. Utley has not played in a single Grapefruit League game since 2010 and has opened the previous two seasons on the disabled list. If Utley is healthy, the Phils hope he can be a solid No. 3 hitter, but that is no guarantee. In 186 games over the previous two seasons, Utley has hit just .258 with 22 home runs, 89 RBIs and a .780 OPS in 699 at-bats.

3. Who is going to play left field?
This should be the most interesting position battle of the spring. Ben Revere will be the Opening Day center fielder and Delmon Young could be the Opening Day right fielder, if he is healthy. (He is recovering from offseason ankle surgery.) If Revere and Young are in the lineup, the Phils still need a left fielder. Laynce Nix figures to come off the bench, leaving Domonic Brown, John Mayberry Jr. and Darin Ruf to battle for playing time. Mayberry's spot on the team seems secure because he hits left-handed pitching well, he has no options remaining and he is the team's only viable option other than Revere to play center field. That leaves Brown and Ruf likely battling for the final outfield job. Brown might have the edge because of his relative experience, but if Ruf has a great spring, he can certainly push Brown to Triple-A. But who starts? Will there be a platoon? Manager Charlie Manuel will wait and see before making those decisions.

2012 record
81-81, third in the National League East

Projected batting order
1. SS Jimmy Rollins:
  .250 BA, .316 OBP, .427 SLG, 23 HR, 68 RBIs in 2012
2. 3B Michael Young:
  .277 BA, .312 OBP, .370 SLG, 8 HR, 67 RBIs in 2012
3. 2B Chase Utley:
  .256 BA, .365 OBP, .429 SLG, 11 HR, 45 RBIs in 2012
4. 1B Ryan Howard:
  .219 BA, .295 OBP, .423 SLG, 14 HR, 56 RBIs in 2012
5. RF Delmon Young:
  .267 BA, .296 OBP, .411 SLG, 18 HR, 74 RBIs in 2012
6. LF John Mayberry Jr.:
  .245 BA, .301 OBP, .395 SLG, 14 HR, 46 RBIs in 2012
7. C Erik Kratz:
  .248 BA, .306 OBP, .504 SLG, 9 HR, 26 RBIs in 2012
8. CF Ben Revere:
  .294 BA, .333 OBP, .342 SLG, 0 HR, 32 RBIs in 2012

Projected rotation
1. LHP Cole Hamels, 17-6, 3.05 ERA in 2012
2. LHP Cliff Lee, 6-9, 3.16 ERA in 2012
3. RHP Roy Halladay, 11-8, 4.49 ERA in 2012
4. RHP Kyle Kendrick, 11-12, 3.90 ERA in 2012
5. LHP John Lannan, 4-1, 4.13 ERA in 2012

Projected bullpen
Closer: Jonathan Papelbon, 38/42 saves, 2.44 ERA in 2012
RH setup man: Mike Adams, 3.27 ERA in 2012
LH setup man: Antonio Bastardo, 4.33 ERA in 2012

The new guys
CF Revere: The Phillies fell short in their pursuit of B.J. Upton, so they traded right-hander Vance Worley and top pitching prospect Trevor May to the Twins for Revere. They will need Revere to cover plenty of ground in the outfield with Young trying to play right field for the first time since 2007, and neither Brown nor Ruf known for their defense in left. There is a strong argument that Revere should hit high in the Phils' lineup, but Manuel is reserving judgment until he sees him play this spring.

3B Michael Young: The veteran infielder will try to play third base regularly for the first time since 2010. He also will try to bounce back from a disappointing season in which he suffered a career-low .682 OPS. Young said he believes he solved a mechanical flaw in his swing late in the year, which allowed him to hit .301 with an .801 OPS in September. If he can replicate that success over a six-month span in 2013, the Phillies will be thrilled. If Young cannot, they at least hope he is healthier and more productive offensively than former third baseman Placido Polanco.

RF Delmon Young: The Phillies took a flier on Young, whom they signed to a one-year, $750,000 contract, which can reach $3.5 million based on incentives and performance bonuses. Young might miss the first couple weeks of the season because of an ankle injury, but if he is as motivated as general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. says he is, they could be getting a pretty good hitter at a great price. Young has never fulfilled his potential as the first overall pick in the 2003 First-Year Player Draft. He has also had a myriad of off-the-field issues. There is obvious risk here, but at that price, the Phils figured they would take a shot.

RHP Adams: The Phillies blew 13 leads in the eighth inning last season. If they had held just seven of those leads, they would have tied the Cardinals for the second NL Wild Card. Philadelphia hopes Adams can help, which is why the club signed him to a two-year, $12 million deal. The deal comes with risk. Adams had thoracic outlet syndrome surgery in October, which involved the first rib below his right clavicle being removed. Adams said he should be ready by Opening Day, but that remains to be seen.

LHP Lannan: The Phillies signed Lannan to a one-year, $2.5 million contract to be their fifth starter. He spent the majority of last season with Triple-A Syracuse after losing his spot in the Nationals' rotation. He is 3-13 with a 5.53 ERA in his career against Philadelphia, but he is 39-39 with a 3.80 ERA against everybody else. The Phils hope Lannan replicates that success against the rest of the league.

RHP Chad Durbin: The Phillies are bringing back Durbin, who pitched well in the middle innings from 2008-10. He went 4-1 with a 3.10 ERA in 76 appearances last season with the Braves. He had a 2.33 ERA from April 18 through the end of the regular season, and recorded a 0.83 ERA in 28 appearances against NL East teams.

Prospects to watch
LF Ruf: He had a fantastic season with Double-A Reading and hit .333 with three home runs, 10 RBIs and a .727 slugging percentage in 37 plate appearances in September with the Phillies. If Ruf has a good Spring Training, he could earn himself a job with regular playing time in left field.

RHP Phillippe Aumont: The Phils love his arm and potential and he certainly is in contention for one of three jobs available in the bullpen behind Jonathan Papelbon, Adams, Antonio Bastardo and Durbin.

RHP Justin De Fratus: He is in the same spot as Aumont. The Phillies like De Fratus' potential, and he will be in the mix for a bullpen job.

On the rebound
1B Ryan Howard: The big slugger suffered career lows in batting average (.219), on-base percentage (.295) and slugging percentage (.423). Howard averaged a strikeout every 2.95 plate appearances, the highest rate of his career, and one homer every 18.57 at-bats, the lowest rate of his career since he became an everyday player in 2005. He also hit just .173 against left-handers. But here is the interesting thing: Howard also averaged one RBI every 4.64 at-bats, which was his best mark since 2009 (4.37), and ranked 10th in baseball with 56 RBIs from July 6 through the end of the regular season. Howard said he expects to be stronger, healthier and more explosive with a full offseason to get in shape. He missed those workouts last winter while recovering from left Achilles surgery. Howard thinks a full year removed from surgery should help him.

C Carlos Ruiz: The veteran backstop will miss the first 25 games of the season following a suspension for using a banned stimulant.

INF Freddy Galvis: Put Galvis in the same boat as Ruiz. He was suspended 50 games last season for using a performance-enhancing drug. Galvis will have to show he can produce offensively naturally, although if he just catches the ball, the Phillies might keep him on the roster for his defense.

Classic departures
SS Rollins: This will be Rollins' second time on Team USA. Manuel said he likes Rollins playing in the Classic because a competitive, intense atmosphere might be the best way for him to prepare.

RHP Aumont: Aumont will play for Canada, and maybe a strong showing on the international stage will help his case to win a bullpen job.

CF Tyson Gillies: The young outfielder, who will play for Canada, is not expected to be a candidate for a job on the Phils' 25-man roster, but the experience here could be beneficial.

INF Pete Orr: The journeyman infielder will play for Canada. His departure should not impact Philadelphia too much this spring. It looks like Kevin Frandsen, Galvis and Yuniesky Betancourt will be the top candidates for the team's two utility infield jobs.

LHP Cesar Jimenez: He will be in big league camp as a non-roster invitee, but will leave to play for Venezuela.

RHP Rodrigo Lopez: He is in big league camp, where he will be preparing to open the season with Triple-A Lehigh Valley. Lopez will play for Mexico.

Long gone
3B Placido Polanco: He won a Gold Glove at third base in 2011, but he was often injured, and finished last season on the disabled list. Polanco will play for the Marlins this year.

RHP Vance Worley: The 25-year-old was expected to make a full recovery from right elbow surgery and be the team's fourth starter, but the Phillies traded him to the Twins to get Revere.

RHP Jose Contreras: The 41-year-old finished the season on the disabled list because of an injured right elbow. He remains a free agent.

C Brian Schneider: The Allentown, Pa., native got to play for his hometown team for three seasons, but he has announced his retirement.

RHP Josh Lindblom: The Phils acquired Lindlbom from the Dodgers in July as part of the Shane Victorino trade, but shipped him to Texas to acquire Michael Young.

OF Juan Pierre: The speedy journeyman outfielder proved to be a valuable presence in the clubhouse last season and productive atop the lineup, but the Phillies needed to go with some young players in the outfield and made no effort to re-sign him. He will play for the Marlins this year.

OF Nate Schierholtz: The Phils did not tender him a contract after the season. Schierholtz later signed with the Cubs.

INF Ty Wigginton: He signed a free-agent contract with the Cardinals.

RHP David Herndon: The Blue Jays claimed Herndon off waivers, and then lost him to the Yankees, when they claimed him off waivers.

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

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