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-Clemente: The Passion and Grace of Baseball's Last Hero

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September 6 2006

Not much good news for the Phillies today.  Bad news for Lieberthal, worse news for Brian Mazone and maybe the worst news of all for Scott Mathieson.

Mike Lieberthal is likely out for at least a week with back spasms.  The Phillies have called up 26-year-old righty Tim Gradoville to serve as the Phillies third catcher behind Coste and Ruiz.  The Phillies took Gradoville in the 37th round of the 2002 draft and he spent most of this year with Double-A Reading, hitting 261/312/348 in 115 at-bats while striking out 34 times and hitting just one home run.  He apparently is great defensively, which is good because coming into this year in four minor-league seasons at AA or lower his career minor-league line was 217/282/287 with 38 extra-base hits in 791 at-bats.  I'd love to see Gradoville contribute with the Phils, but that kind of line just means that you can't hit, or at least you haven't yet.  On the upside, he's with an organization that hasn't shown a bias against people who can't hit in certain situations.  Maybe he can play third or pinch-hit for Pat Burrell.

Last night's rainout means the starting rotation gets a chance to recover from the two double-headers this weekend.  This is good news for everyone except Brian Mazone, the 30-year-old lefty who went 13-3 with a 2.03 ERA for Triple-A Scranton Wilkes-Barre this season and would have started tonight for the Phillies.  The Phillies acquired Mazone as a minor-league free-agent in November of last year.  He's been lights out for the Red Barons, allowing just 108 hits and 36 walks in 128 1/3 innings.  The soft-tosser struck out 85.  Mazone was signed by the Braves as an undrafted free agent in 1998 and spent a lot of time in the independent leagues, leading the Northern League in wins in 2002 after shoulder surgery in 2001.  This year he finished second in the voting for Pitcher of the Year in the International League.  Fellow long-sufferer Chris Coste apparently talked him out of taking a contract to play in Korea in July. 

The Mazone thing is a sad story and it must have been a bitter disappointment.  I think his chance is coming, though, and he'll have a lot of fans in Philadelphia when it does.   He has to be inspired by the chance the Phillies gave to Chris Coste -- the Phillies have given almost everybody a chance this year, from Gavin Floyd to Coste and Sandoval and Thurston.  They're in a playoff race now. 

The news for Scott Mathieson was worse.  After leaving his start on Saturday after just six pitches with a problem in his right elbow, it appears that he may have a tear in the tendon of his elbow that will cause him to miss significant time.  If this proves to be the case it will sideline a very promising career and put the pitching-short Phillies in a bigger hole.

The good news is somewhat limited.  Danny Sandoval was recalled from Double-A.  Aaron Fultz is apparently ready to pitch again.  Hold your breath.  Fultz pitched to a 6.75 ERA in 14 games in August.  He's allowed eight earned runs on nine hits and three walks in his last 2 1/3 innings over three games.  His struggles are significant for a Phillies pen that can't get it done these days. 

In all of baseball, the Phillies pitchers have been the worst in games close and late (7th inning or later with the batting team either ahead by one run, tied or with the potential tying run at least on deck), allowing 101 runs and throwing to a 4.47 ERA in 195 1/3 innings.  No other team in the National League has thrown to an ERA over 4.00 in these situations.  The Nationals have pitched their way into a tie with the Phillies for the worst starting pitching in the NL, both team's starters have thrown to a 5.28 ERA.  Say what you will about clutch stats, but having the worst starting pitching in the league and the worst results in games that are late and close is a powerful combination.  It kind of helps explain how the Phillies have scored the most runs in the National League but are 70-68.  Or maybe it's that Pat Burrell lacks the will to win, it's kinda up in the air.

The Phillies starting pitching is much, much better now.  By the end of the year they won't be the worst in the league.  On the season, the numbers for the Phillies pen are still very good.  They've thrown to a 3.82 ERA, which is tied for third-best in the league.  Gillick and the Phillies front office went for it this year and I like the moves they made.  They gave the rotation the help it needs and bolstered a bench in desperate need of a good bolsterting.  The Randall Simon acquisition may have been the best off all.  What they didn't do was sure up the pen.  There was no reason to -- it didn't look broken for a long, long time, and at the All-Star break virtually everyone on the planet including myself would have pointed to the rotation and not the pen as the problem.  It's broken now, though.  The guys that are going to have to fix it are either old, injured, overworked, old and injured, old and overworked or almost laughably inexperienced.  Virtually every team in baseball has pitching problems these days -- most of them haven't had the problem of starters that have been the worst combined with their pitchers being the worst in situations where the game is on the line.

I think the solution is clear and we've already seen it.  It's young guys you don't expect in situations they probably shouldn't be in.  Fabio Castro pitching to the righty Matt Diaz.  Matt Smith against Lance Berkman.  Some of it's going to work and some of it isn't, but there's no such thing as a comfortable lead at this point.

Randy Wolf faces Andy Pettitte tonight, take two.

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