PHILADELPHIA—By the time the Phillies had to turn to the bullpen with 2 outs in the sixth inning and runners on second and third Sunday, reliever Chad Durbin had already twice entered a game and deepened a hole.

On Opening Day, he opened the sixth and let 3 runs pile atop the Braves total in a 7-5 loss.

In the home opener, he inherited a bases-loaded jam in the seventh, and let 3 of Jeremy Horst’s runners and 1 of his own stretch a tie game to 9-5.

Yet Charlie Manuel didn’t think twice about who to hand the ball on Sunday.

“That’s his spot,” the manager said after a 9-8 loss to the Kansas City Royals at Citizens Bank Park for their second straight series loss. “We were down by two runs at the time. That’s his spot.”

Durbin walked his first batter, Alcides Escobar on 5 pitches. His next, Billy Butler, cracked a 2 RBI single right back up the pipe.

Just like that, a 2-run hole had ballooned to 4.

After hanging 4 runs on Royals starter James Shields in the first, the lineup rallied in the ninth, dropping another 4 runs and burning through 2 Kansas City relievers.

It still wasn’t enough – by one run.

Starter Cole Hamels didn’t help. Struggling with his command throughout, the Phillies No. 1 served 8 earned runs in just 5 2/3 innings, making for his first straight starts of 5 or more earned in 6 or fewer innings since 2009 – best remembered for his disaster start to the year.

But after signing a $144 million deal through 2018, Hamels is a Phillies fixture.

Chad Durbin isn’t.

That’s why, despite a rocky first week and a half and the sour taste left from it, Manuel’s absolutely right to see what Durbin’s got – even if it burns his Phillies a few times in the early going.

“Durbin’s known at times to be kind of a slow starter,” Manuel said of the 35-year-old righty, the owner of a career April 6.45 ERA. “That kinda happens sometimes.”

But what happens beyond that? Though Durbin’s monthly ERAs begin to rise after the first 30 days of action – with, it’s worth noting, plenty of month-to-month volatility – the ceiling is still pretty low for him: just a 4.18 ERA in 198 innings over the past three seasons.

Durbin this year will earns $1.1 million. But if it's determined he's unfit to serve his role, the cash -- and Durbin -- are expendable.

Manuel needs to make that consideration. He may already begin to be doing so.

“We just gotta play it,” he said, maybe tipping his and the organization’s hand. “Right now, we were just pitching who we have. That’s who we have right now. Whatever happens, we’ll see.”

Who they have to get 4-6 outs are Durbin and Raul Valdes, who was unavailable on Sunday after going 2 innings on Saturday. Unfortunately for the Phillies, Valdes, too, has been shaky, allowing 6 earned runs in just 3 2/3 innings – leaving them without a reliable long man to date.

As for Valdes, he’s had just one worthy year – 2012, when he posted a 2.90 ERA and 7.00 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 31 innings over 27 games. Drop 2 July outings, and his ERA’s a 2.19.

But was it a fluke? First-timer’s advantage? Function of pitching in a pressure-less season?

That’s what the early going is designed to find out.

That’s why Manuel needs to be steadfast – stubborn, even – in using them.

At this point, it’s possible the answer includes stepping outside the organization. Of the 3 supposedly ready relievers buffing out the last smudges of their games in Triple-A – Mike Stutes, Jake Diekman and Justin DeFratus – only Stutes has longman experience.

Even then, he’s gone 4 or more outs in just 14 of 63 big league appearances.

Granted, his role in his breakout 2011 was primarily as a seventh-inning guy. That can always change – especially in a pinch like the Phillies may soon be feeling.

Still, even if Stutes sticks there, if both Durbin and Valdes flame out, that leaves the Phillies just 1 option if Hamels, Kyle Kendrick or John Lannan get chased early – or for a spot start in the event of a surprise with Roy Halladay.

Kendrick and Vance Worley were alternatives once upon a time. But Kendrick won himself a spot in the starting rotation with a 21 2/3 scoreless innings streak last summer, and Worley was part of Minnesota’s haul in the Ben Revere deal this offseason.

Relegating Kendrick again would necessitate inserting another starter – or two – and only Jonathan Pettibone, Adam Morgan and Ethan Martin, who opened the year with a combined 7 games above the Double-A level, and Tyler Cloyd exist as options within the organization.

No matter what the Phillies decide – whether they slide Kendrick back to the ‘pen and seek a trade for a No. 4 or 5, or kick the tires on a sensible middle reliever – a trade would likely be costly, especially for an organization relying on so much youth to soon fill so many holes.

That’s why it may be best for the Phillies to choose between Diekman and DeFratus as their next-up seventh inning guy, and begin to stretch the other as a Durbin/Valdes contingency.

Because if both continue to be this bad, this team will be going nowhere fast.

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