PHILADELPHIA — Cliff Lee’s season ended unceremoniously last Thursday with an elbow injury at Nationals Park.
He emptied his locker six days later at Citizens Bank Park.
Lee will rejoin the team in about a month, but the Phillies have a schedule to play with or without him. David Buchanan, who took Lee’s spot in the rotation, helped the Phillies beat the Astros on Wednesday night, 10-3. He allowed nine hits, three runs and struck out five in 6 1/3 innings. He also picked up his first career hit and RBI and scored a run as the Phillies won back-to-back series at home for the first time since Sept. 2013.
Buchanan will get a chance to prove himself the rest of the season as the Phillies look toward next season’s rotation.
There are holes to fill.
“It’s a good opportunity for him,” Phillies manager Ryne Sandberg said. “He made a good showing when he was here with us [earlier this season]. It’s an opportunity to show what he can do, to learn from it to get better and gain experience and continue to impress.”
“I haven’t thought about that at any time,” Buchanan said. “Every time I go out there, I take it as a blessing for me to get a chance to help this team win another game. Every five days, if I keep getting the baseball, that’s what I’m going to worry about — that start. I’d be more than happy to stay here as long as they want me here, but as of right now I’m just trying to help the team every five days.”
Cole Hamels will be the Opening Day starter, assuming he is not traded. A team claimed Hamels on revocable waivers Wednesday, according to FOXSports.com. It gives the Phillies and that unidentified team 48 hours to discuss a trade before the Phillies pull him back from waivers. The Phillies have no inclination to trade their ace, so a trade would only happen if they are absolutely blown away by an offer.
Lee figures to be the No. 2 starter, if he is healthy.
A.J. Burnett is under contract through next season, assuming he isn’t traded and picks up a player option that could be worth $12.75 million next season.
But at the very least, those No. 4 and 5 spots could be open. Kyle Kendrick (5-11, 4.74 ERA) andRoberto Hernandez (6-8, 3.87 ERA) are free agents after the season, and it would not be a shock to see the Phillies look elsewhere to fill those roles.
This is what made Wednesday an interesting night.
Buchanan improved to 6-5 with a 4.39 ERA in 11 starts. He must continue to take strides the rest of the way. In between his first 10 starts and Wednesday’s start — he got optioned to Triple-A shortly before the All-Star break — Buchanan figured out a few things he wanted to do whenever he rejoined the Phillies.
“You’re always trying to get better at everything,” Buchanan said. “But one thing I wanted to work on was throwing my curveball a little more and throwing more consistently for strikes, not just bouncing one in the dirt. I feel like I did a pretty good job of that tonight. I felt like I used it effectively. Overall, I thought we were on a good pace of using pitches and pitching to both sides of the plate.”
Two top pitching prospects also made starts Wednesday. Aaron Nola made his Double-A debut for Reading after the Phillies selected him in the first round of this year’s First-Year Player Draft. He allowed six hits, one run, one walk and struck out four in five innings.
Nola could be in the rotation at some point next season, and might even have a chance to impress folks in Spring Training, depending on what happens in the offseason.
Jesse Biddle, who the organization selected in the first round in 2010, returned to action with Class A Clearwater. The Phillies placed him on the inactive list to clear his mind after serious struggles with Reading. He allowed no hits, one walk and struck out five in five scoreless innings.
Biddle has a considerable road to take to get back into the big league equation, but perhaps Wednesday was something to build on.
The Phillies gave Buchanan a 5-1 lead in the first inning with help from a two-run double from Ryan Howard. Chase Utley hit a three-run home run to right field in the fourth inning to give the Phillies an 8-2 lead. Ben Revere tripled in the eighth for his fourth hit of the night and scored on a wild pitch to make it 10-3.
“The whole offense has been hitting the ball really good,” Revere said. “It was a good, all-around team win.”