Camden Courier-Post - September 19, 1980

Phils face tough decisions on pitchers


By Rusty Pray of the Courier-Post


CHICAGO – An off-day in a pennant race comes almost as an intrusion. After splitting their final two games with the Pittsburgh Pirates, the Phillies cooled their heels here yesterday before beginning a three-game scries against the Cubs.


This, however, will be the last interruption of the season. The Phils will go straight through the next 16 days, when the National League East will be decided. And, most likely, a winner will not emerge until the season's final weekend, when the Phils play at Montreal, which currently leads the East by 1½ games.


Days off do have their benefits though, and one of them is the opportunity to consider what the future may hold. Everyone knows there is a good chance the Phillies will make several trades when this season is finished. But few have stopped to consider the fascinating situation of the club's pitching staff.


YOUNGSTERS SUCH as Bob Walk, who was to start this afternoon's game in Wrigley Field, Marty Bystrom and 19-year-old Mark Davis have given the Phillies a glut of sound arms where none had been before.


Their presence will force the front office to make some hard decisions concerning injured righthander Larry Christenson and ineffective lefthander Randy Lerch. The case of Christenson, who has spent the better part of the last two seasons on the disabled list, is much more complex than that of Lerch, whose arm is sound.


As a six-year man Christenson will be eligible for the free-agent reentry draft when his present contract expires at the end of the season. Management must decide whether to sign Christenson and hope his injured days are behind him, or let another team gamble on his health and sign him as a free agent.


General manager Paul Owens says he would hold no "animosity" toward Christenson if he were to test his value on the open market. At the same time, the front office would be reluctant to get into a bidding war with any club that might draft Christenson.


THAT'S WHY Owens met with Christen-son's agent earlier this month to talk contract. The Phillies would rather sign Christenson, a product of their farm system and a fine pitcher when he is healthy, than lose him to free agency.


The two parties agreed that Christenson, who had elbow surgery earlier this year, should pitch a few more times before serious negotiations would begin. Ironically, that was just prior to a Sept. 2 game in which Christenson pulled a groin muscle. The injury bothered him in his next start on Sept. 6, a game he left in the second inning. He hasn't pitched since and probably will not be available for the rest of the season.


Interestingly, if Christenson should not be healed in time for the playoffs, the Phillies will likely put him on the disabled list, making room for Bystrom to be eligible for postseason play.


They will have to get permission from the Commissioner's office to do that, because Bystrom is a September call-up. But the permission probably will be granted. On the other hand, reliever Sparky Lyle, whom the Phillies acquired in a trade with Texas last Saturday, will not be eligible to pitch in the playoffs.


WITH CHRISTENSON'S future as a Phillie in limbo because of injury, Owens probably will let Christenson go through the draft, then make an offer. The Phillies handled the signing of outfielder Greg Gross in similar fashion a year ago, Gross turning down at least one better offer from another club to stay in Philadelphia.


Lerch is another whose contract expires at the end of the season. He, however, has not been in the big leagues long enough to qualify for the free-agent draft. Lerch, who has been relegated to the bullpen for much of the second half of the season, will probably be traded, a move that could well benefit both the club and the player.


Righthander Nino Espinosa's contract expires at the end of this season. Some would say his arm expired at the beginning of the year. Espinosa has show more guts than stuff in his starts this season because of tendinitis he developed last September. As a show of good faith, Espinosa has offered to sign a one-year contract with the Phillies, a deal the club feels is more than fair.


Tug McGraw, also unsigned, will sit down with Owens at the end of the year. The Phillies, who would lack valuable experience in the bullpen if McGraw left as a free agent, would like to keep both him and Lyle next season.


PHIL UPS – Manager Dallas Green will go with a four-man rotation of Steve Carlton, Dick Ruthven, Walk and Bystrom the rest of the way... "I don't see L. C. (Christenson) being ready," said Green. "It's not a matter of him being able to pitch. It's a matter of him being able to walk on and off the mound."... Records of the East contenders since Sept. 3, Phillies 8-6; Expos 10-3; Pirates 4-8... Despite a base hit in Wednesday's 5-4 win over the Pirates, second baseman Manny Trillo's slump reached 3-for-51.