Jamie Moyer Will Be the Phillies’ Fifth Starter

But not because he should be

The first thing to understand is that this is not an impassioned case for Kyle Kendrick’s candidacy as the Phillies’ fifth starter. Those of us who remember his 2008 collapse are quite wary of inserting the 25-year old Texan into the rotation, no matter how well he has pitched this spring.

This is about Jamie Moyer, who was praised yesterday for his five-inning, 72-pitch performance against the Orioles. It was a strong showing, to be sure, and it was a preview of exactly what the Phillies can expect from Moyer when the regular season starts in April: five innings, 70-75 good pitches, four relievers to follow. [SIGNUP]

There is a funny story circulating the Phils’ spring training complex that Moyer is actually pitching for a spot on the roster. That he isn’t assured of anything — except about $8 million dollars this season. That bit of monetary reality assures Moyer tremendous security on a team that has made no secret of its financial limitations this year, and it pretty much renders laughable the candidacy of Kendrick, who could retire every batter he faces from here on out and start the season in the bullpen. Moyer has the job, if only because the Phils would look pretty bad if they admitted that the decision to give a 46-year old man a two-year deal in the heady days after the ’08 world title was a bad move. And — I promise this will be the only time I mention this for a while — it would have cost just $1 mil more to have Cliff Lee in rotation this year. Moyer has the job.

The problem is that the lefthander proved last season what his best role is: coming out of the ‘pen once a week or so to throw three or four innings of relief after a starter has imploded. It happens to the best of them, and it will likely afflict all of the Phils’ front-line hurlers this season. When it does, Moyer could be there to throw 50 water balloons to befuddled hitters and get out of town before they figure out what he’s doing. (One codicil: Let him start every game against the Marlins. He owns them.)

Asking Moyer to make 25-30 starts this year is putting too much strain on a bullpen that enters the season as the team’s biggest question mark. Last year, in 25 starts, Moyer allowed opponents to hit a robust .294 against him. He posted an ERA of 6.90 or higher against six of the 13 teams he faced and rarely made it into the seventh inning. Moyer tired as the season progressed and required considerable medical care last winter. He has served the Phillies well and was a key part of the run to the title. But he shouldn’t be the fifth starter.

The trouble is, he almost has to be. The Phillies could go with Kendrick, but if he falls apart, his confidence may be shot for good. Moyer doesn’t lack for self-certainty, as his somewhat petulant response to his move to the bullpen showed last year. What he lacks is the stamina to protect an unproven bullpen and vulnerability as his pitch count climbs. If he couldn’t get out of the sixth last year, does that mean he won’t be able to complete the fifth in 2010? Plus, the guy is at an age where most guys who “get up in the bullpen” are usually doing so to go to the bathroom.

Moyer is a tremendous story, and as a local guy he commands great affection among the Phillies’ faithful. But the team never should have signed him to a two-year deal after 2008. His large salary (he will be paid more than Cole Hamels, Joe Blanton and J.A. Happ this season) makes him impossible to trade and tough to cut. You can’t blame Moyer in this situation, but you can blame the Phils. They have put themselves in a position where they almost must make the lefty their fifth starter, even if he can’t throw more than five or six innings at a time (if he can do that). Moyer made the team’s brass smile Sunday by dispatching the Orioles. Let’s hope he doesn’t make fans wince throughout the year.

• Jay Wright did the right thing. If you break the rules, you pay – no matter what. Wright didn’t hurt Villanova; Scottie Reynolds and Corey Fisher did.
• Nice of the Flyers to surrender half of the eight-point lead they had over Atlanta over the weekend. It’s not all the goalie, folks.
• Darryl Tapp and Marlin Jackson are sound free-agent pickups for the Eagles, but neither truly addresses the team’s main defensive weakness: another big-time playmaker along the front seven, besides Trent Cole.

MICHAEL BRADLEY fights for truth and justice in the world of sports from his secure World Headquarters in suburban Philadelphia. His work appears in Sporting News, Athlon publications, Hoop Magazine and Slam. He is a regular contributor to Sirius Mad Dog Radio and 97.5 The Fanatic.