Park making pitch for Phils' rotation

February 22, 2009 7:19:20 PM PST
Chan Ho Park walked through the hallways of Bright House Field, beads of perspiration on his forehead and his clothes drenched in sweat. The 35-year-old veteran had arguably outworked all the youngsters inside the weight room at the Philadelphia Phillies' spring training site. For Park, it's time to prove he can be a major league starting pitcher again.

"It's 'Game on,"' Park said. "I'm trying to control the situation. Pitch well and do my best and then we'll see what happens."

With Grapefruit League games beginning this week, Park will likely get his first chance to audition for the team's vacant fifth starter spot. He signed a one-year, $2.5 million deal - with incentives that could double the contract's worth - because the Phillies' front office said he'd get the opportunity to compete for a starting role in spring training.

Park's competition includes: incumbent lefty J.A. Happ, who emerged when the team needed a fifth starter at the end of last season; right-hander Kyle Kendrick, who has won 21 games since June of 2007; and right-hander Carlos Carrasco, the organization's 21-year-old, top pitching prospect.

"A team has to develop young guys for the future, and I was in that situation last year with the Dodgers," said Park, who is almost 10 years older than every other candidate for the No. 5 spot. "So, we'll see. We'll see."

Working primarily out of the bullpen with the Los Angeles Dodgers last season, Park was 4-4 with a 3.40 ERA in 54 games. In five spot starts, Park was also effective, going 1-0 with a 2.16 ERA.

"I'm anxious to see him pitch and we're ready to give him a chance to see if he can pitch in our rotation," Phillies manager Charlie Manuel said. "From what I've seen so far, he's got a tremendous breaking ball. His stuff is good. His fastball is getting better. It's gotten better the last couple years, and I think it's going to be even better this year."

The Phillies kept tabs on Park last spring and saw him twice during the regular season and again in the National League Championship Series.

"From the very start of spring training last year, we felt like he was going to have a successful year," Phillies assistant general manager Chuck LaMar said. "So his success didn't surprise us."

If there was a surprise, it was that Park arrived at a spring training camp last spring.

The South Korean native, who signed a lucrative five-year, $65 million contract with the Texas Rangers in 2002, was released by the Mets after appearing in just one game in 2007. The Houston Astros picked up Park, but at Double-A Round Rock, he went 2-10 with a 6.21 ERA in 15 starts.

Wondering if he would ever get back to the big leagues, Park began to seriously consider retirement.

"I had a hard time, mentally and physically because I had played in the major league for a while and was now in the minor leagues - it wasn't easy," Park said. "You know when guys get old, they can lose their spirit, think of retirement. I wasn't pitching well ... it made me more discouraged."

Park pushed aside thoughts of quitting, however, when he took the time to talk with Round Rock pitching coach Burt Hooton, a friend from his first stint with the Dodgers.

"He knows me well," Park said. "He kind of taught me a lot of the things that I forgot, the things I used to do."

Park is once again confident in his ability and hopeful he can pitch his way into the starting rotation of the defending World Champions.

"It's all about pitching well - I know it's very important," Park said. "You appreciate that you can play alongside great players on one of the top teams in the world. That's what I want to experience before I retire. That's one of the reasons I signed with this team. So when I'm done, I can say I played in Philadelphia with some of the best."

Notes: Cole Hamels was not in camp, tending to a family matter, according to team officials. Hamels, who logged over 260 innings last year, will be brought along slowly this spring and likely won't see action in a Grapefruit League game until next week. ... Third baseman Pedro Feliz (back) continued to take ground balls as he works to get back into playing condition. He is expected to swing a bat for the first time early this week. ... Reliever Ryan Madson, on switching his uniform number from 63 to 46: "Obama said it was time for change."

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