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Facing rotation questions, Phils begin assessment

Facing rotation questions, Phils begin assessment

PHILADELPHIA -- Roy Halladay should have four more starts before the end of the regular season, which is good news in terms of his evaluation.

The bad news is the Phillies' front office must determine if it wants to re-sign Halladay based upon those starts, understanding he might not be a finished product just four months removed from right shoulder surgery and that an offseason of rest and preparation for Spring Training could make him a better pitcher in 2014.

Or not.

Nobody really knows, so in the meantime, place Halladay into the group of "ifs" regarding the future Phils rotation. It is a list that includes anyone not named Cole Hamels or Cliff Lee, meaning Halladay, recently signed Cuban right-hander Miguel Alfredo Gonzalez, Kyle Kendrick, John Lannan, Jonathan Pettibone and anyone else in the system.

"There are questions there," general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. said this week. "Obviously, I like the two left-handers. We don't know what's going to happen with Doc. Gonzalez is a question mark. Very few pitchers have the record and durability that Kendrick has had, which is good. He's been inconsistent this year, but he still takes the baseball. That's an important element of having some depth. I think Pettibone is going to be fine health-wise."

Two years ago, the Phillies had one of the best seasons by a rotation in baseball history. This year, their 4.29 ERA is 11th in the National League.

That must improve if the Phils stand any chance at bouncing back next season.

"Right now, you've got Cliff and Cole," pitching coach Rich Dubee said. "That's where it stands."

The toughest decision is Halladay. He has a 5.16 ERA in 35 starts the past two seasons. On Wednesday against the Nationals, Halladay walked three batters in an inning for just the 10th time in his career. He also hit two batters in a game for just the 10th time in his career.

Halladay, whose fastball sits in the 86-89 mph range, said the inconsistencies come from relearning his mechanics. He said he expect that to improve, as well as his velocity.

Do the Phillies trust Halladay's self-evaluation? Do they believe he can reinvent himself as a finesse pitcher?

"I think you're going to have to kind of look into a crystal ball," Dubee said. "Try to envision what the high side could be. … I think it's very, very impressive he's pitching already. I think it's amazingly impressive. I don't know too many guys that would be. I see people say, 'Why is he pitching. Why are they pitching him?' How do you judge a person that is under contract that feels obligated to fulfill the contract, when we have an industry of players sitting on the DL that should possibly be playing? ... We're going to judge a person for doing the right thing? And judge him as being wrong? I have a hard time with that."

Dubee is one of the people who believes Halladay, who has not had a true break following surgery in May, will benefit from the offseason.

"I think he's going to gain stuff," Dubee said.

"We'll be able to see enough of him to get a pretty good view," Amaro said. "His full strength might not come back until next spring. There is still going to be some risk with him, but at the same time we'll be able to get a pretty good read on how he progresses as he continues to pitch, I hope."

Of course, pitchers never say they can't get back to prior form (Brad Lidge is an example of that). But if the Phils could bring back Halladay at a significant discount or with a heavily incentive-laden deal, it might be worth a shot. Otherwise, they might want to part ways with one of the best pitchers of his generation.

Kendrick is eligible for salary arbitration. He could be in line to make $8 million or more next season. But Kendrick is 3-8 with a 6.23 ERA in 12 starts since late June. That followed a 40-game stretch from late April 2012 through June in which he went 16-14 with a 3.50 ERA.

Dubee said a couple factors could be at play regarding Kendrick's recent struggles: First, he could be putting pressure on himself, understanding there is a lot of money on the line. Second, Kendrick has had some mechanical issues, which has made his sinker less effective.

The Phillies could check off a box on their to-do list if they offer Kendrick salary arbitration. Or they could non-tender him and try to sign him for less.

But there is risk there.

"He's a very capable pitcher, believe me," Dubee said. "If something doesn't happen here, I'm sure there's going to be plenty of seekers. He's durable. He hasn't missed a start all year. Those guys are highly sought."

Gonzalez is a mystery, but scouts everywhere seem to think he is a middle-of-the-rotation starter. If he is healthy, of course. Lannan seems likely to be non-tendered following left knee surgery. Pettibone proved capable this season, although he is finishing the season on the disabled list with a shoulder issue.

"I'll put a lot of money on the fact that Cole Hamels is probably going to have closer to the flip of his current record than what he has right now," Amaro said. "Cliff is going to be at the top of the rotation. I think we have two of the best lefties in the game. I think that's a good start. At the same time, we're going to need at least four or five or six or eight [starters], probably. The depth is going to be where we're going to be challenged, I think. That's always a challenge, I guess."

The rotation is important. It sets the tone of every game. But Amaro seems less concerned about the rotation than other things.

"Some of the bigger concerns for me are catching and the bullpen," he said.

Amaro has those things to work on, too.

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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