World Series? What World Series?

By Murray Chass

November 4, 2008

Adam Eaton will get a World Series share, and he will get a World Series ring. Sadly for him, however, he was not part of the World Series. His absence extended his perfect streak: three playoffs in four years and not one post-season game pitched.

Eaton, a 30-year-old right-hander, pitched himself out of the Phillies’ starting rotation last July, worked briefly and ineffectively out of the bullpen and basically disappeared for the rest of the season and the post-season.

In Eaton’s first year with the Phillies, last year, they left him off the roster for the first series, against Colorado, and the Rockies swept the playoff in three games. In 2005 St. Louis swept San Diego, and Eaton never got a chance to pitch.

Eaton didn’t actually disappear this season. After his mid-season demotion and the month that he spent with three different minor league teams, he returned to the Phillies with other September callups but didn’t pitch one game or even one inning.

Imagine that. A pitcher with a three-year, $24.5 million contract is a September callup, and if that isn’t embarrassing enough he doesn’t get to pitch in September. Nor, of course, did he pitch in any of the Phillies’ 14 games in October.

This was not the Adam Eaton the Phillies envisioned when they signed him as a free agent two years ago. In fact, it was easily the biggest mistake Pat Gillick made in his three years as the Phillies’ general manager.

Phillies’ fans will forgive Gillick because he put together two post-season teams and one World Series champion, only the second in franchise history. But now that Gillick has retired as general manager, Eaton remains on the Phillies’ roster as a reminder of that mistake. On the other hand, the Phillies may try to shed the pitcher and his $8.5 million salary.

A few days before he was named the team’s general manager, Ruben Amaro Jr. addressed Eaton’s status.

“Adam is under contract for one more year,” Amaro said. “We have not made a final decision on what we’re going to do with him. We’ll see what happens. We haven’t made any final decisions.”

The Phillies could trade Eaton but would probably have to pay at least half of his salary. They could release him and would have to pay his salary plus the $500,000 buyout of the option year in the contract. Or they could keep him and try to help him resuscitate his career.

“He just didn’t perform well,” Amaro said. “He didn’t perform to the level that we were expecting. He graciously took an assignment to go to the minor leagues to work on some things. He didn’t do well there. We’re hoping we could get something out of him on the positive side.”

In two years with the Phillies, Eaton has a 14-18 won-lost record and a 6.10 earned run average. In 19 starts this past season he had a 3-8 record and a 5.71 e.r.a. In seven minor league starts he had a 0-5 record with a 7.02 e.r.a. He had attracted the Phillies’ interest with an 11-5 record for the Padres in 2005 and a 7-4 record with the Rangers in 2006.

Eaton said he had some nagging injuries during the 2007 season – he was on the disabled list for two weeks in August with an inflamed right shoulder – and had a magnetic reasonance imaging test on his bothersome back early in 2008 but opted not to have surgery. His pitching, he said, reflected the ailments.

“This off-season I’m going to spend a lot of time getting back to the mechanics I used to have,” he said. “I’m not throwing the way I used to. I was more of sidearm than the more traditional three-quarters. I lost a lot of movement on my pitches.”

Eaton didn’t say it, but based on some of the things he said, it appeared that the Phillies didn’t do much to try to correct his mechanical problems. For example, when a team sends a veteran pitcher to the minors during the season, a pitching coach will work with him to correct his mechanical problems.

But Eaton said, “I wasn’t necessarily sent down to fix the mechanics. I was trying to fix things myself. When I went down I wasn’t necessarily focusing on mechanics. I was told to go down and get my command back. Get guys out.”

Asked if the Phillies’ pitching coach, Rich Dubee, worked with him to fix his problems, Eaton said, “I don’t know if Rich knew what was wrong. He didn’t see a lot of me, when I was good, for him to look at video and know what I’m supposed to look like. For him to try to create something when he didn’t know what it used to be, it’s kind of tough.”

When Eaton returned to the Phillies, he didn’t pitch, not even in relief. There were a few times the Phillies needed a starter, but it was never Eaton. Why not? “You’d have to ask them,” he said. “I didn’t ask them. There wasn’t necessarily a lot of communication.”

Eaton had become a non-person because he had not demonstrated during his month in the minors that he was ready to get hitters out in the majors. The Phillies were in a fight for a playoff spot, and they didn’t feel that Eaton could help.

Despite his absence from the post-season roster, Eaton will get a World Series ring as a member of the team during the season, and he will get at least 80 percent of a full World Series share for the time he was on the roster, if not a full share.

“I’m not worried about a World Series share,” he said. “I’m happy for the team. Not that I contributed in the second half, but going to minors I felt I was helping myself and the team.”

Eaton watched the playoffs on television at home in the Seattle suburb of Snohomish.

“They gave me the option to go to Clearwater,” he said, referring to the Phillies’ Florida base, where he could have stayed in pitching shape in case he was needed. “I asked my chances of pitching in the playoffs. That answer was pretty evident so I went home to be with my daughter and my family. I watched more playoffs this year than my entire life.  My focus was on the team and how they were doing.”

He said he stayed in contact with some of his teammates via text messages. “I wished them well in different parts of the playoffs,” he said.

But it wasn’t the same as being there and pitching.

“I think anybody who can’t participate feels it,” he said.  ”You wonder how you would react to pitching in the playoffs. I think I’ll react favorably when I get that opportunity. I won a World Series ring, but I haven’t competed in a World Series. The dream of getting there is sort of fulfilled, but I have to fulfill it being on the field and pitching.”

Before reaching that juncture, though, Eaton has to reclaim a spot in the starting rotation.

“I think I need to establish myself again,” he said. “The off-season started a few days ago so who knows what’s in store for anybody, whether you’ll be otraded or what. Right now I’m a member of the Phillies and hope to win another World Series.”

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