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Another take on the 5th starter question

I'm finding it interesting that the poll I posted yesterday shows plurality support for keeping Scott Mathieson in the rotation, despite his generally lousy performance thus far. A look at his game log shows that in seven starts for the Phils, the 22 year-old fireballer has gone six IP or more just twice, and he's posted a worse ERA as a starter than Gavin Floyd did in his earlier big-league stint. (Also, Mathieson allowed 5 unearned runs in a start against the Mets two weeks ago--so his ERA probably overstates his effectiveness.) I don't know whether the poll results reflect confidence in Mathieson, lack of confidence in the other options, or a sense that the season's over anyway and the kid should take his lumps and grow and learn.

While it's probably fair to note that Mathieson's four starts since his second callup have come against some very good offenses (Cards, Mets, Reds, Mets), the fact remains that if the Phils take this wild-card race seriously, on-the-job training for a very promising but clearly unready young pitcher shouldn't be an option. Fortunately, there's a better way--and it doesn't even mean sending Mathieson back down.

I've concluded that the best answer for the Phils is a fifth-starter-by-committee. As it is, the team has eight relievers, and probably will remain so through September 1, when rosters expand. Add Mathieson to that list, and you've got nine usable relievers. So long as the front four starters--Myers, Hamels, Wolf and Lieber--can be counted on to average 6 innings or more per start, this should be more than enough. Given both the recent performances of three of those four, and a favorable schedule that features mostly light-hitting teams from here on out (9 vs. Washington, 7 vs. Chicago Cubs, 6 vs. Houston, 10 vs. Florida), this shouldn't be an unreasonable expectation.

Right now, Charlie Manuel says that Mathieson will take his next turn Tuesday afternoon against the Cubs in Wrigley. Given the Cubs' middling offense, maybe he'll turn it around; either way, I expect Manuel to have him on an even shorter leash than he did yesterday. But Mathieson is scheduled to start just once more after that game before the Sept. 1 callup date.

At that point, assuming that they're still in the hunt and that the Phils summon at least three or four of the eight or so viable candidates at AAA Scranton/Wilkes-Barre--lefties Matt Smith (reliever), Eude Brito and Brian Mazone (starters) and righties Gavin Floyd, Justin Germano (both starters), Clay Condrey, Jim Crowell and Travis Minix (relievers)--Manuel will have the depth to go inning by inning with a 15- or 16-man pitching staff. Four or five of those guys--Mathieson, Madson, Floyd, Germano, Brito--will have started this year, giving the option of longer stretches. Through this approach, the club can both maximize its chances to win on a given day and conduct auditions among many back-of-the-staff candidates for 2007.

Now that I've convinced myself, what do you think?