Philadelphia Phillies: Joe Blanton's Injury Gives Vance Worley an Opportunity

Victor FiloromoCorrespondent IMay 23, 2011

ATLANTA - OCTOBER 2: Vance Worley #49 of the Philadelphia Phillies pitches against the Atlanta Braves at Turner Field on October 2, 2010 in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by Scott Cunningham/Getty Images)
Scott Cunningham/Getty Images

Ever since Vance Worley made his starting debut as a Philadelphia Phillie on September 6th, 2010, there were a whole lot of early assumptions being made about the right-hander's future.

The most prominent one? Hey, maybe this guy can be our fifth starter in 2011.

After the Phillies signed Cliff Lee in December, it seemed almost a near certainty that the Phillies would attempt to trade Joe Blanton to make room (roster-wise and salary-wise) for Worley.

Fast forward to a late-May showdown between the Phillies and Cincinnati Reds Tuesday night at Citizens Bank Park. Worley will be on the mound making his third start of the season, filling in for an injured Blanton, who has been plagued by an elbow injury for a good majority of the season.

After a trip to the disabled list, Blanton returned and made two starts, but did not have the same velocity he has shown throughout his career. After routinely being able to at least touch 91 or 92, Blanton was delivering fastballs in the 85-87 MPH range in his two games against Atlanta and Florida.

Back to the disabled list for Blanton, and back to the Majors for Worley, who has been jettisoned back and forth from AAA to the Majors a couple different times already in 2011.

Blanton's numbers have been less than impressive thus far, as he has a 5.50 ERA in six starts. But his 56.3 percent groundball percentage and high BABIP would lead you to believe he's gotten quite unlucky on balls in play against him this season.

We'll have to wait a while to see if Blanton gets an opportunity to right his poor and perhaps unlucky start to the season. He could out about a month, if not more, with the elbow injury.

Enter Worley, who now has a chance to grab the fifth starter's spot and not look back. Is it possible that we have seen the last of Joe Blanton in a Phillies uniform? Well, not likely. But if Worley goes out and pitches as well as he has in his limited time early this season, how is he going to get his job back?

In his two spot starts this season, Worley went 2-0 whilst limiting the Mets and Nationals to just six hits and one run. Could that be the problem, however?

The Cincinnati offense Worley will face tonight is a heck of a lot different than the not-so-murderer's-row featured in Washington and New York.

Worley's .195 BABIP thus far would also lead one to believe that he has gotten the best of batted balls in play so far, and that small sample size of just 16 innings might not give us all we need to know about him.

At the very least, Worley has beaten out the much-maligned Kyle Kendrick, who doesn't provide the strikeouts that Worley has been able to. At the very least, Worley is a better option than Kendrick because he can get the ball past hitters.

Consult Kendrick's spot start against Colorado last week in place of the last minute scratch Blanton and you will know what we are talking about. Yes, it was a tough situation, but yes, Worley is a better option.

The good news is that Worley has done well thus far against both right-handers and left-handers, as both have struggled against him. Righties are hitting just .185 off him, while lefties are hitting just .138.

Could this just be a flash in the pan for Worley? Does that fact that hitters are just three for 31 against him in innings one through four lead anyone to believe that they can make adjustments later on in the game and/or season? Does the fact that there has been little video until now on Worley make you worry about hitters making adjustments?

Sure. All of this stuff is worrisome, at least to a degree. He's a young guy, and often times, young guys come up, have some good luck, and then get hit around a little bit. That's life, and that's baseball.

But early on, Worley has been impressive. It appears that he has been able to mix in a pretty decent change-up along with his fastball, which sits in the 90-92 range.

The Phillies had little choice with this situation. Blanton was simply not ready, his cranky elbow still troubling him. Some day, he might be ready.

For now, it's an opportunity for Philadelphia's new favorite goggled pitcher.