Philadelphia Inquirer - March 25, 1980

Who might (and might not) stay with Phils


By Jayson Stark, Inquirer Staff Writer


CLEARWATER, Fla. – The Phillies have 36 players left in camp. Clearly, Mike Schmidt is going to make it to the final 25. Clearly, Don McCormack isn't.


What happens to some of the people in between is the intriguing part. Some of the highlights of these final two weeks of spring training will include "The Dave Rader Watch," the resolution of that burning question, "Can Luis Aguayo Really Be This Good?" and a nervous rendition of "Whatever Happened to Nino Espinosa?"


Here is a rundown on the way the Phillies' major roster decisions shape up, 15 days before they head north:


•  PITCHING - It's safe to say that Steve Carlton (0.82 earned-run average) and Randy Lerch have made the club. Dick Ruthven has come along slowly but looks sound. Larry Christenson is still picking the Jason Thompson line-drive shrapnel out of his knee, but Christenson was hit in the same spot by Dave Kingman in 1977 and didn't miss a turn. This, too, doesn't appear serious.


Those four should make up the April rotation. Whether Espinosa will be ready in May, when they'll need five starters, is the big question.


At the moment, Espinosa (stiff shoulder) is throwing about as hard as Hoyt Wilhelm against the wind. The next inning Espinosa pitches here (possibly today in a "B" game) will be his first. Manager Dallas Green says he is "concerned but not overly worried." It sounds like the Warren Brusstar Memorial False Optimism Front.


If Espinosa is ready opening day, that leaves five more spots open on a 10-man staff. If he starts on the disabled list, make that six. The people fighting for them are Doug Bird, Rawly Eastwick, Lerrin LaGrow, Tug McGraw, Scott Munninghoff, Dickie Noles, Ron Reed, Kevin Saucier, Burke Suter, Paul Thormodsgard and Brusstar.


The odds on those guys making it look like this – McGraw and LaGrow, 2-to-5; Reed, 2-to-1; Eastwick, 3-to-1; Bird and Saucier, 5-to-1; Noles, 8-to-1; Suter, Thormodsgard, Munninghoff, 25to-1, and Brusstar, 50-to-1.


LaGrow (one hit in four innings), Eastwick (two hits, four strikeouts in four innings) and Munninghoff (1.29 ERA, seven strikeouts in seven innings) have been the three most impressive pitchers here, besides Carlton. McGraw also is unscored upon in three outings.


Munninghoff, whose specialty is a brutal, sinking fastball, looks as if he might be the next Brusstar. But he is only 21, needs work on getting his breaking ball over and, Green said, still is around only because Christenson and Espinosa are hurting.


Although Reed has been a bit wild, he appears set. Thormodsgard and Suter don't seem to figure seriously. So it is down to Noles, Bird and Saucier for the final spot (or two, depending on Espinosa).


Noles has been hit hard and could be in trouble. Saucier also has not looked sharp (nine hits, three walks in five innings). Those two have options left. Bird has a guaranteed contract. Green has conceded that factors such as options and money "sometimes have to enter into it. We're involved in a high-priced business here."


•  CATCHING – You start with Bob Boone. You end with Keith Moreland. If one of them gets hurt, McCormack comes up from Oklahoma City. Rader? He hasn't played for the same team two years in a row since 1976. He has a better chance of performing at the La Jolla Comedy Store this year than at the Vet. The later it gets, the tougher it is to place him somewhere.


•  INFIELD – The Schmidt-Bowa-Trillo-Rose combination still is unsurpassed. It is what happens after them that gets interesting.


Green hasn't decided yet whether he will keep six or seven infielders. But if John Vukovich continues to look as if he can catch against three or four batters, he will be one of them.


Then comes Bud Harrelson. He is signed for this year. It is no great mystery what he can do – play hard, catch everything, be a nice guy, tell old Mets stories.


But do you really need him if you have Luis Aguayo? You have to remember that Rudi Meoli looked like Phil Rizzuto down here last year, but Aguayo so far has looked merely great.


He has played second, short and third. He has done something dazzling in all three places. He turns the double play well from either side. He has terrific range. The only questions concern his age (he turned 21 two weeks ago) and his bat (he hit.196 in Reading in 1978).


But he has smoked the ball in Florida (.353, five doubles out of six hits). He was a respectable.273 at Oklahoma City last year and hit well in Puerto Rico over the winter. Green is very, very tempted to keep him.


"Well, I didn't cut him," the manager said. "That has to give you some indication."


Oh, yeah. There might still be a Billy Smith, but only if he comes cheap.


•  OUTFIELD – There really is only one decision. Greg Luzinski, Bake McBride, Greg Gross, Del Unser and Lonnie Smith are going north, and there is a better chance that Paul Owens will tour with the Grateful Dead than that he will deal Garry Maddox before April.


So it comes down to a debate on whether you need a seventh outfielder. John Poff and George Vukovich will be heard from some day, but they bat lefthanded, which eliminates them. So if there is a seventh outfielder, it will be Mike Anderson. If not, oh well. Anderson didn't get a single pinch-hit last year.


NOTES: The Phillies didn't play yesterday, but host Baltimore today (Dickie Noles vs. Dennis Martinez).... The Mets also will be in town for a "B" game this morning.... Green plans to start playing his regulars more, beginning today. He also will institute individual instruction for those guys who haven't pleased him with their mastery of the fundamentals so far.... Mike Schmidt (.529) has been the offensive scourge of the camp. But Greg (Twiggy) Luzinski has driven in at least one run in every game he has played, except for a week ago.