Strong camp could give Gonzalez edge in rotation battle

Rookie will get opportunity for fifth spot against Buchanan, Billingsley

Strong camp could give Gonzalez edge in rotation battle

CLEARWATER, Fla. -- If nobody is traded and everybody is healthy, Phillies manager Ryne Sandberg thinks four pitchers are locks to make the 2015 rotation. The foursome includes Cole Hamels, Cliff Lee, Aaron Harang and Jerome Williams.

That leaves David Buchanan, Chad Billingsley and Miguel Alfredo Gonzalez competing for the fifth spot. Buchanan is the favorite, based upon an encouraging rookie season (6-8, 3.75 ERA in 20 starts). Billingsley missed most of the past two seasons because of right elbow problems, so he probably will not be ready to join the rotation until late April.

Then there is Gonzalez.

The Phillies signed him to a three-year, $12 million contract in 2013 after he originally agreed to a six-year, $48 million deal. Questions about Gonzalez's health cost him $36 million, but the organization's concerns proved valid when he battled injury issues last season as a starter.

Gonzalez eventually moved to the bullpen, where he pitched with some success. But he enters Spring Training getting another shot to prove himself in the rotation.

"Expectations are for him to complete a full camp," Sandberg said, emphasizing Gonzalez's health history. "Seeing what he can do and seeing how he progresses as camp goes along. As of right now, we have him slated in the starting role, allowing him to build up his arm strength a little bit. Work on pitches as a starter. That's the goal right now."

If Gonzalez can stay healthy and he has a great camp, he could edge Buchanan for that fifth spot. But as Sandberg said, Gonzalez has to stay healthy first.

Todd Zolecki is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.