Phillies continue to Cook up pitching depth
Veteran could crack Opening Day roster or start year waiting in wings at Triple-A
CLEARWATER, Fla. -- The Reds had five pitchers start 161 of their 162 games last season.
That's the exception, of course. Teams always talk about finding five starters, but they know they'll need more than that. In all, 286 pitchers started at least one game in 2012, an average of almost 10 per team. It's one of the oldest, truest clichés in baseball: You really can never have too much pitching.
Which explains why the Phillies signed veteran right-hander Aaron Cook in January, and why he was on the mound at the beginning of Sunday's split-squad game against the Blue Jays at Bright House Field.
If all goes according to plan -- and it usually doesn't -- the Phillies' rotation will consist of Cole Hamels, Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee, Kyle Kendrick and John Lannan. And Cook, the 34-year-old non-roster invitee, will open the season with Triple-A Lehigh Valley. But, almost certainly at some point, Philadelphia will need reinforcements.
Cook, naturally, isn't conceding anything, and he hopes to pitch his way onto the Opening Day roster.
"That's still a month away before I have to worry about a decision like that, so I'm just going to go out and continue to pitch when they give me the ball," the veteran said.
"[The Phillies] really pursued me a year ago. And this offseason, they were one of the first teams to call and say they had interest. It's just a good opportunity. Last year, the pitching coach in Boston was Bob McClure. I had worked with him in the Minor Leagues and really wanted to work with him again. This year, when they kept calling, my agent was like, 'They pursued you last year and they're pursuing you this year. I think it's a good opportunity.' It was one I was willing to take."
If he does crack the rotation, Cook will be a relative bargain with a base salary of $1.625 million and incentives of $325,000 for 10 and 15 games started, $400,000 for 20 starts and $475,000 for 25 and 30. In the Minors, he would make $18,000 per month and would also get a $100,000 "retention fee" for going down.
The IronPigs' rotation projects to be a blend of youthful promise and veteran savvy. Penciled in at the moment are 37-year-old Rodrigo Lopez, and prospects Jonathan Pettibone, Ethan Martin and Tyler Cloyd. Pettibone, 22, was 13-8 with a 3.10 ERA at Double-A Reading and Lehigh Valley last season, and is ranked as the organization's No. 4 starter by MLB.com. Martin, acquired from the Dodgers at the trading deadline last year, is rated as the team's second-best prospect. Cloyd, 25, was a combined 15-1 with a 2.26 ERA for the R-Phils and Pigs.
"Our pitching depth should be real good," said manager Charlie Manuel. "We always say when the season starts to have good depth in your pitching staff, you actually should have six starters in the big leagues and at least two pretty good ones at Triple-A. So we've got depth now, not only from our young kids in the bullpen, but also in our starters.
"[Cook] can still pitch. He got through a bad stretch where he had an injury. Actually, he's recovering from it. He used to pitch good against us. He has good command and basically puts the ball where he wants it. And his stuff is still good. He's getting back to where he used to be."
Cook was an All-Star for the Rockies in 2008, but has spent time on the disabled list in each of the subsequent seasons with a shoulder strain (2009), sprained toe ('10), fractured right index finger ('11) and left knee laceration ('12).
He made 18 starts for the Red Sox last season, going 4-11 with a 5.65 ERA. On Sunday, he allowed seven hits and four runs -- three earned -- in four innings, but pitched better than the numbers suggest. Two of the hits never left the infield, and there were also two errors committed behind him.
"I felt like I was making some pretty good pitches and they were finding some holes," Cook said. "I made a couple bad ones and they got hit pretty hard, but for the most part, I accomplished what I wanted to. I went out there and hit my spots, worked on a couple pitches.
"I felt great. As you start to extend it out, there are always those question marks. Can I do four? Can I do five? Can I do six? So it's nice to get out there and get though it and feel good about it."
Paul Hagen is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.