Saturday, March 17, 2007

35 Reasons to Believe

The Phanatic Magazine continues its preseason coverage of the Phillies, profiling one player per day to get you set for the 2007 campaign. Our 35 straight days of Phillies coverage kicked off on February 25th, and will continue to roll until Opening Day on April 2nd. Then we will hand it over to Michael Rushton, who will provide an in-depth season preview before the first pitch is dealt.

DAY 21: Tom Gordon

By Tim McManus
The Phanatic Magazine

Phillies fans, pink elephant. Pink elephant, Phillies fans.

Now that you've acknowledged the 39-year-old arm of Tom Gordon, let's dive into what we can expect here.

When pundits talk about the uncertainty in the bullpen, it's normally focused on the men that are responsible for putting the ball in Gordon's hands. This is mostly because "Flash" was very good last season, providing stability in an otherwise erratic 'pen en route to 34 saves and a 3.34 earned run average.

A look at his resume shows 2006 as a blip rather than a regularity, however, making the decision to just pencil Gordon in for a similar season pretty dangerous.

The save total, for example, is the second most since his debut in 1988, trailing the 46-save mark he posted back in 1998 with the Boston Red Sox. He put up 38 more saves over the course of the next two seasons, but then went five years without being a team's everyday closer. That was, until he shifted from being the Yankees' set-up man to the Phils' go-to guy last year.

Gordon showed that he still had the stuff to get it done, but as feared and forecast, he went through a dead-arm period during the time of year when contenders can ill-afford to be without one of their top arms. From August 13 to September 3, he was sidelined with a strained right shoulder. It was proof that Gordon was fatigued in the latter stages of the campaign, turning his All-Star form into something less than.

This spring, he was shipped back to Philadelphia from Clearwater with reported discomfort in his forearm and elbow. His checkup apparently went fine and his stay in Philly was brief, but it served as a reminder that a lot of people's hope is riding on a fragile limb.

General Manager Pat Gillick realizes this and has tried to make reserve plans. He brought in Antonio Alfonseca, who at one timed served as a high-end closer, and has unabashedly been shopping the likes of Jon Lieber and Aaron Rowand in the name of relief arms.

In order for the Phillies to make the postseason, Gillick must pull something off. It doesn't need to be immediate, as Gordon is likely to stay healthy and effective up through the All-Star break.

But all indications are that the aging closer will fall off as the second half wears on, and a trip or two to the DL should be expected.

There needs to be a rock-solid Plan B.

Tomorrow: Jon Lieber

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