August 20 Philadelphia Daily News columnist Paul Hagen
“There comes a point in the season when every contending ballclub segregates its bullpen into two distinct categories: Guys who the manager and pitching coach trust and guys who make pulling toenails out with a pair of pliers seem more palatable than using them in a game that hasn’t, for all practical purposes, already been decided.
No official announcements are made. Managers might not even make a conscious decision, just sense in their guts when the time has come to stop thinking about prepping each reliever for later in the season and doing whatever it takes to win every game right now.
There’s a compelling stack of evidence that the Phillies reached that moment of truth at Sun Life Stadium in Florida on Aug. 5. They beat the Marlins, but it wasn’t easy. They were leading, 2-0, in the bottom of the seventh when J.C. Romero relieved starter Roy Oswalt.
Romero, who didn’t get an out, allowed both inherited runners to score, one on a bases-loaded walk. Jose Conteras came in and two more inherited runners scored. The Phillies finally tied it in the ninth and won it in the 10th.
Since then, going into last night:
Romero had pitched three times. The Phillies were ahead by five, behind by six and behind by four when he entered the games.
Contreras had pitched three times. The Phillies were down by six and four and ahead by six.
Danys Baez had pitched four times. The Phillies were ahead by five and trailed by six, five and three.
And Rule 5 selection David Herndon had pitched just three since July 27. The Phillies were behind by seven, five and three runs when he appeared.
In that 11-game span starting Aug. 5, Ryan Madson and Chad Durbin have each come out of the bullpen seven times. Eight of those 14 occasions the margin was two or fewer runs. And Brad Lidge has pitched four times, all in save situations, converting each opportunity.
It’s worked, too. Down at Broad and Pattison, Harry the K has been singing “High Hopes” on an almost nightly basis.
There’s a catch, of course. There’s always a catch.
The nature of bullpens is that it’s always difficult to find the right balance between too much work and not enough, to keep the relievers sharp without burning them out. And with more doubleheaders (one) than off days (none) scheduled between now and Sept. 9, at some point something’s gotta give for a team that keeps using the same three pitchers out of the ‘pen.
Madson, for example, pitched in his fourth straight game Wednesday night.
It’s hard to say when the tipping point might be reached. It helps to have Roy Halladay starting every fifth day. Mix in a few lopsided games and maybe even a rainout and maybe this approach can be sustained for a while. But it can’t continue indefinitely. It just can’t. Even after roster limits are expanded, it’s not like there will be an influx of arms that Charlie Manuel and Rich Dubee can’t wait to put into a tie game in the eighth. If those guys existed, they would be here now.”
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