Koehler Could Be Odd Man Out When Alvarez Returns
By Sean Millerick
When the 2015 campaign first got underway, the rotation that broke camp at Jupiter knew that one of their number was on borrowed time. With 2013 Rookie of the Year winner Jose Fernandez due back from a year-long Tommy John mandated hiatus by the All-Star Break, someone was going to be handing over their spot to the young superstar. What they didn’t know was that the competition would progress to a point that the axe might fall for one of them as soon as mid-May, and that two projected starters might find themselves either bolstering the bullpen or packing their bags over the next month.
The “winner” of this dubious sweepstakes seemed like it could be anyone during that 3-11 start to the season. But after the 12-6 turnaround that followed, it is Tom Koehler that finds himself squarely in the crosshairs in this Monday showdown against 2009 Cy Young Winner and two-time All-Star Zach Greinke. Koehler, who put up a 7.00 ERA in 18 innings this Spring, earned his rotation spot with a gritty and consistent 2014 campaign that saw him step up almost as much as All-Star Henderson Alvarez when staff ace Jose Fernandez suffered that season ending injury. That 3.8 ERA across nearly 200 IP outshone stellar Spring performances by Brad Hand and David Phelps, who were forced to parlay those efforts into long man roles in the bullpen; Phelps was 2-0 with a team best 0.95 ERA, and fell 1/3 of a frame shy of leading the team in that metric as well. So it was no surprise that when this season’s ace- Alvarez- went down the first week of the season, Phelps got the call.
Since joining the rotation, he’s arguably been the ace of the staff. While two wins in five starts can get outshone by the 4-1 line put up by Dan Haren, Phelps’ ERA during that stretch has been a dazzling 1.80- almost a full point better than Haren’s line. Koehler meanwhile has had just one quality start in his last four attempts, and sits at 2-3 with an ERA of 5.18 for the year. His three losses put him in a three-way tie with Mat Latos and Jarred Cosart for most on the team, while those two wins tie him for the second best mark in the rotation. A closer look at the game logs however will show that Cosart allowed more than three runs only once in his three defeats, and that Latos has pitched better in every start since his horrific debut (0.2 IP, 7ER). Koehler’s ERA trails only Steve Cishek for worst on the team.
The last two games have seen Phelps outpitch World Series Hero Madison Bumgarner, followed by Latos turning in his best start of the year. The only thing that went right for Koehler this weekend was technically fifth starter Cosart turning in his worst performance of the season. Other than that, the buck has been firmly passed to Koehler to prove he belongs, and to do it immediately. For Tuesday evening will see Alvarez on the minor-league mound, with news circulating that this could well be a one and done rehab stint. On five days rest, due to a Thursday off-day, his next start would align exactly with Koehler’s. A solid effort Monday night might be enough to pass the buck back to Phelps later in the week, but should Koehler falter again, one would have to think what’s looking more and more like a Spring Training disservice will have finally been corrected.