David Buchanan saw his Thursday start on a sunny day in St. Louis turn cloudy very quickly. The game began with four straight Cardinal hits and three runs in the first inning, and was downhill from there.
It was a disappointing outing for Buchanan, who lasted just 4.1 innings, allowing seven earned runs on eight hits. He walked three and struck out just one, and fell to 0-5 on the season. His ERA is not something to be proud of at the moment.
David Buchanan ranks 131 out of 131 qualifying pitchers in MLB in ERA (8.76) and WHIP (1.91). Kyle Kendrick is 130th: 8.36 ERA, 1.79 WHIP.— Ryan Lawrence (@ryanlawrence21) April 30, 2015
Yikes. Buchanan was hoping to build off his quality start against Atlanta last weekend, but to no avail. Now, the Phillies may have a decision to make in the coming days.
Chad Billingsley has been rehabbing with Lehigh Valley, and was finally able to ramp up to 99 pitches in his start yesterday. There don't seem to be any official plans as of yet, but there is the chance that Billingsley will be ready to go for Major League action just days from now.
Severino Gonzalez, who was called up to start against St. Louis earlier this week, is still scheduled to start Sunday in Miami despite his rough outing Tuesday. What does it all mean for the rotation? It may spell the end of Buchanan's time in the Majors, at least for now.
It would be hard to imagine Buchanan continuing to pitch for the Phils at this point. Nobody has ever mistaken Buchanan for an ace, but in this era of Phillies baseball, it's been important to get any sort of look at youngish players. Buchanan showed the skills of a No. 5 pitcher last year. He's come nowhere near that this season.
Buchanan's struggles are linked to his inability to find the plate, which wasn't a real problem for him last year, and was one of the main reasons he made it to the Majors in the first place. Buchanan clocked in at 2.4 BB/9 last year in the Majors, but that has ballooned to 5.5 BB/9 this season. He has just 12 strikeouts in 24.2 innings. To say the least, when your walk rate is higher than your strikeout rate, that's not a recipe for survival long-term.
What has truly troubled Buchanan since his Major League arrival is his inability to get right-handed batters out. Last year, righties hit .293/.336/.484 against him. This year, righties are hitting .362/.431/.552. Yes, that's sadly not a misprint. Buchanan held lefties to a .592 OPS against him last year, part of the reason he was able to stick.
He has the arsenal to be able to cut pitches in against lefties, and that benefited him in 2014. This year, both righties and lefties are shelling him.
Combine that with the increased number of walks, and it has been essentially a recipe for disaster for Buchanan. As he has fallen behind in counts, he's trying to get fastballs across the plate, leaving them up in the zone, and seeing batters crack those pitches past him.
The Phillies will have a decision to make here in the coming days. With the way Gonzalez was hit in his first start, it might not be unreasonable to believe that if he struggles again Sunday that the Phillies would demote him after two starts and promote Billingsley into that spot.
However, Buchanan's start is alarming, and he seems to have no feel on the mound right now. A trip to Lehigh Valley may actually be of value to him at this point and to the team, for multiple reasons.
The Phillies have now seen Buchanan start 25 games in the Bigs, and there is a general assumption that his future would be as a back-end of the rotation starter or mop-up man.
There is a chance to get a long-term look at Gonzalez to see what he can do, and as previously mentioned, it makes you a little warm and fuzzy inside to at least get a glimpse at some young talent, no matter how talented (or untalented) said player may be. Gonzalez offers that, and at the moment, the Phillies would seemingly owe it to him and themselves to get a lengthy look at him in the Majors, at least a month's worth of starts.
As Billingsley nears his return, Buchanan has essentially done everything possible to give the front office an easy decision on what needs to be done.
So, what exactly should be done? Give Gonzalez a few more starts and continue to monitor his progress. Give Billingsley the ball and the chance to build trade value for a potential deadline move. Send Buchanan down to get things right in AAA, and allow him to build some confidence again.
These situations are never fun, and sometimes plans can be tricky to devise. This one shouldn't require much thought.