Sizing up the battery as Phillies’ pitchers and catchers report

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It wasn’t that long ago that the Phillies entered spring training with the much vaunted “Four Aces.”

Only two of those arms are part of the rotation, at least for now. All eyes will be on Cole Hamels and Cliff Lee when pitchers and catchers report but for different reasons.

Hamels, who has been on the trading block throughout the hot stove season, is still a Phillie.

If King Cole isn’t dealt, he will be the opening day starter April 6 versus the Red Sox, who need an ace but reportedly haven’t impressed Ruben Amaro with their offers.

Lee is coming back from a flexor tendon strain, which caused the fast-working lefty to miss three-quarters of the 2014 season. It’s all but a foregone conclusion that Lee will be traded mid-season if he is healthy and effective.

For now, Hamels and Lee are the expected top of the Phillies rotation. If Hamels pitches like he did last season and Lee approximates what he’s done when he healthy, those are two reasons to see the Phillies play in April and May.

After that it gets really iffy. Can Aaron Harang, who was surprisingly solid in ‘14, repeat what he did during his bounceback season with the Braves? Considering how Harang (12-12, 3.57 ERA) attracted little interest until the Phillies signed him, most organizations believe it was an aberration. But the Phillies signed the hulking righthander to a $5 million one-season deal. Harang can’t be any worse than A.J. Burnett, can he?

David Buchanan impressed by keeping the Phillies in nearly every game he pitched last season. Buchanan won’t blow anyone away with his pedestrian velocity but he is cerebral and scrappy.

Just prior to extending Cole Hamels to his $144 million contract, Mitch Williams told Metro that the Phillies should trade the lanky ace to the Angels for Mark Trumbo and Jerome Williams. The Phillies never acquired the strikeout machine but Williams pitched decently after being picked up by the Phillies. During the last two-months of the season, Williams showed flashes.

Expect Jonathan Papelbon to stay with the club and close. Papelbon is hardly a charmer in the clubhouse and he left his best stuff in Boston but he’s still a capable closer. The bullpen is the most volatilepart of a ballclub but Ken Giles is for real. He figures to be as good as any setup man in the game with his 98 mph fastball and devastating slider. Giles is reminiscent of Brad Lidge when “Lights Out” was an Astro.

Jake Diekman can actually get better. Perhaps this is the season when Diekman dominates both left-handed and right-handed hitters. Justin DeFratus kept making strides last season. Mario Hollands was strong last season and he could improve. Expect each of those relievers to leave for Philadelphia at the end of the Grapefruit League season.

The wildcard of the bunch is Chad Billingsley. Ruben Amaro took a flier on the former Dodger starter, who was effective back in the Phillies glory days. Can Billingsley become the Aaron Harang of ‘14. If so, he would make for great trade bait.

Andy Oliver is an intriguing arm. The 27-year old lefty is a Rule 5 selection, who struck out 87 in 64 innings at AAA Indianapolis but he also walked 47. If Oliver can locate, perhaps the Phillies have a solid bullpen arm.

This is the end of the line for Phillippe Aumont. The massive Canadian, who is the last piece of from the disastrous Cliff Lee deal, is out of options. Can he throw strikes? Will he stick?

Carlos Ruiz will once again catch. Ruiz has been a terrific Phillie but he has extremely high mileage on his odometer. There’s little behind Ruiz. There’s Cameron Rupp and Tommy Joseph. Rupp could be a decent major league back-up. We’ll see how that turns out, if the Phillies don’t pick up a veteran catcher during camp. Joseph, who is only 23, hopes to succeed Ruiz someday and become a major league catcher with a strong bat. But the big question is whether Joseph can stay healthy.

Enjoy the Phillies hurlers, they figure to be the highlight of the season since the rest of the squad appears to be offensively challenged.

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