Originally posted on Phillies Nation  |  Last updated 1/25/12

The Phillies have three aces at the top of the rotation, and a guy who is coming off a great first year in the bigs in Vance Worley as the 4th, or maybe 5th, starter. Joe Blanton is expected to be the final player in the rotation, but what if isn’t ready?

Blanton is coming off an elbow injury that kept him out of almost all of 2011. His health is a huge question mark at this point, which means his pitching skill and his spot in the rotation are as well – and it’s the reason for this post.

In his shortened 2011 season, Blanton posted the highest ERA of his career, the 2nd highest WHIP of his career, and the most hits-per-nine innings of his career. Conversely, he posted the highest strikeout-per-nine and strikeout-to-walk ratio of his career. What this tells me is that his pitches were around the plate, but were not good enough to get guys out consistently. Maybe he had a flat fastball or his curves weren’t breaking the way they used to. Regardless, if his elbow is the cause of these numbers, and this downward trend continues, he will not last very long in the rotation.

However, if his elbow is fine, and he reduces the number of hits he gives up, he would undoubtedly be the selection for 5th starter. Its just a matter of seeing where he’s at in Spring Training.

But let’s pretend for a minute that Blanton shows up at Spring Training with an 85 MPH fastball and a curveball that just spins with no break.  Or maybe with no control at all. Who’s the next choice? Surely, after his success in 2011, Kyle Kendrick might be it, and it would be a good one. Last year, he made spot starts and assumed the role of long man out of the bullpen. He posted career bests in many areas, including ERA, WHIP, hits per nine innings, and strikeout to walk ratio. What’s more surprising it that his better numbers came as a starter. He had a lower ERA, a lower WHIP, a higher K/9 and a higher K/BB ratio when he was the starter.

In fact, his 2011 numbers rival some of Blanton’s career bests. Now, as I said above, if its a healthy Blanton vs Kendrick, Blanton will win that battle. But if Big Joe isn’t healthy, Kendrick isn’t a bad choice at all.

Of course, behind Kendrick, the Phillies have guys like Joel Pineiro and Pat Misch who can come in and start games, but I don’t think they will be seriously considered for the 5th spot in the rotation.

A guy who could really challenge Kendrick, should Blanton not be ready, is Austin Hyatt. (Sidenote: Don’t Google just his name. You’ll get a bunch of websites that want you to book a hotel in Texas). Hyatt is a 25-year-old righty who has spent three seasons in the minors. In those three seasons, he’s posted a 3.2o ERA, to go along with an 11.0 K/9 and a 4.12 K/BB. He was an All Star in the Eastern League in 2011, going 12-6 with a 3.85 ERA for the Reading Phillies. In an interview with our own Jay Floyd earlier this month, he said that he has an invite to Spring Training.

Again, Blanton is the clear choice, but isn’t so clear because of his recent injury. If he isn’t ready, it could be a battle between Hyatt and Kendrick, with Pineiro thrown in. Hyatt will probably land in AAA, but anything can happen in Spring Training, which is just about a month away.

Who are you pulling for in the race for the 5th starter spot?

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