By Barry Jeffrey, Jr.:
If there is a weakness on the Phillies, most of the experts point to here. Many questions pertaining to the pen often come up. Among these questions is which Brad Lidge will show up?
Lidge is still the closer, and a pricey one ($11.5 million) whose in game stability has been questioned the last few years. After his “Lights Out” perfect season that was a huge reason the Phillies won the World Series, Lidge self destructed in 2009. His ERA in that year was higher than the federal deficit and by season’s end he had 11 blown saves and he completely lost his confidence. Last year, he began the season on the disabled list as it was found that some of his issues the previous year were health related due to injury. After he returned from the DL he had some ups and downs, but once he got loose and the season went on he became a shut down closer again. Very dominant in the second half and down the stretch Lidge once again helped the Phillies into the playoffs with 27 saves out of 32 opportunities. However most experts are saying he did it with smoke and mirrors because his velocity was down and his pitches did not have the movement that they did when he was completely healthy back in 2008. Smoke and mirrors maybe, but with a ERA of 2.96 and a 10.2 K/9 along with a 1.23 WHIP he got results out of all of it.
Maybe the experts are missing something here. Like maybe not having his great stuff of the past, Brad Lidge actually learned how to pitch, instead of just relying on heat and intimidation. This year will tell more about where Lidge stands. It is not only a big year for him as a Phillie, but a big year for him period as it’s not a sure thing the Phillies will pick up the $12.5 million team option of his contract and he may be going into possible free agency after the year.
Ryan Madson may be the most important reliever on the team. He is always Charlie’s first choice to pitch in most games especially in the 8th being the bridge to the closer. His season last year started out as a disaster. Thrust into the closer role because of Lidge’s injury, Madson pitched poorly blowing quite a few saves early on in the season. He was so bad that he made himself angry and he ended up kicking a chair and breaking his toe, landing him on the DL at the same time as Lidge was on it. This act leads many to question Madson’s mental makeup and maturity. He must have got in some good self-reflection time while on the DL, because when he returned Madson was downright dominant with a WHIP of 1.04. His pitching was so filthy he lowered his ERA almost 4 full points to 2.55 and re-established himself as one of the top set up men in the game. It seems you have to just keep him out of the closer’s role as he had 5 blown saves to go with his 5 saves. Madson should once again be the go to guy in the 8th inning once more and I am sure Charlie will go to him often.
Jose Contreras had never had much of a bullpen career before last season. A brief cup of coffee there in Colorado after he came over from the White Sox as a starter was the only sustained bullpen use of him before the Phillies signed him. So he was an unknown factor going into the season and no one really knew what to expect from him. What he delivered was a very good season, being used in various roles. He stepped in as the closer between when Madson struggled and was hurt until Brad Lidge returned from the DL and was ready to resume the role. He also was both a short man and a guy who would go a few innings when needed. Charlie even was using him against left handed batters when J.C. Romero was struggling to get people out. He impressed the Phillies enough that, despite being 38 years old, they resigned him as one of their first priorities in the offseason. Towards the end of the season, the new workload of being a reliever had worn him down some and his numbers took a bit of a hit, even though they were still very respectable. That doesn’t show just how good a season he actually did have since he was basically the glue that held together the bullpen during the first month or two.
J.C. Romero returns as the only sure left handed reliever in the group once again. This return however was less than a sure thing. The Phillies had cut him loose at the end of the season and were not even looking at him as an option. They had signed the chunky Dennys Reyes to a contract and were in the process of giving him a physical when the team doctors put a hold on things. The deal fell through and Reyes was left without a home in Philly (he recently signed a minor league deal with Boston). Having seen the Phillies only had either unproven or retread minor league left handed options J.C. informed Ruben Amaro he would be willing to come back for a lot less money to pitch in a Phillie uniform again. The sides got together and Romero signed for pretty much the same amount Reyes was going to be making. Romero’s main problem has been control issues. Despite having plus stuff and a great arm, finding the plate has never been easy for him. Proof of that is his 7.9 walk/9 rate and the 1.61 WHIP. As I said earlier Charlie Manuel was actually using the right handed Contreras to get lefties out because he had lost faith in Romero. Another drawback is Romero has a strike against him for PED use, even though the supplement he used was actually an over the counter pill he got from GNC. Another positive test could mean big trouble for both the Phillies and Romero.
Chad Durbin is gone so the rest of the bullpen is going to be made up of competing sources. Kyle Kendrick is thought to have the inside track at the 5th spot in the pen. The 5th starter for most of his Phillies career, Kendrick is taking the slot he originally was supposed to be filling last year before various injuries thrust him back into the starting rotation after a very strong spring. As I said in the rotation part, Kendrick does not have electric stuff but a switch to the bullpen may help him. Not having to go through the line up a few times may keep his pitches fresh and he may thrive in the pen like many starters before him upon converting. No one really knows for sure whether or not it will work but Kendrick’s ability to throw multiple innings plus the fact that he can spot start if needed are what gives him the most legitimate shot at one of the remaining bullpen spots. Last season after Nelson Figueroa was claimed on waivers by Ed Wade and the Astros, there really was no one who could do this type of job on the team. It forced Charlie Manuel to use rule 5 pick David Herndon, who was not ready for the job having never pitched above AA before last year, as the long reliever. Having the Kendrick insurance policy around takes care of that. Phillies fans hope that he is up to the job.
Charlie may want to carry a second lefty in the pen for more balance, which means Antonio Bastardo would most likely be the favorite to win the last slot (If the Phillies go with the 11 man staff). Bastardo is a converted starter with a plus arm and lots of promise. His numbers at AAA were very impressive with a 2.08 ERA and 27 strikeouts in 17 and 1/3 innings while picking up 3 saves. He rode the Lehigh-Philly road a few times last year until he stuck towards the end of the year. Once he stuck continued to open quite a few eyes. He threw some impressive innings down the stretch and had a 12.5 strikeout per 9 innings that gave both Charlie Manuel and pitching coach Rich Dubee a lot of hope for Bastardo’s development for this season. His main drawback is, like Romero, he can be wild and run high pitch counts per batter and walk people. Bastardo still has an option so they can shuttle him again between Lehigh Valley and Philadelpia if they need to. From his numbers, it looks like there isn’t much more he can learn or develop from being in AAA again. He definitely seems ready to contribute and if Romero struggles again, take over as the full time go to lefty in the pen.
If Charlie wants to go with the extra right hander, Danys Baez will be the guy, despite a disastrous 2010. Baez is a guy most Phillies fans don’t want to hear about or even want on the team. The 5.48 ERA, 1.64 WHIP, 10.4 hits per 9 along with a 4.3 walks per nine with a pedestrian 5.3 strikeouts per 9 along with 3 blown saves are some of the reasons why. It seemed to many who were watching the games that every time Baez came in, he gave up runs, but at least they were his own, he actually stranded all the runners he inherited last year. That was the one very small silver lining to the horror of having him in the bullpen. There are two reasons that the Phillies will most likely carry him once more in the pen. The first is he is owed $2.75 million for 2011 as he is in the second year of his 2 year contract. That is a lot of cash to just eat. The second is, he was one of Charlie’s favorites when Charlie coached the Cleveland Indians. Unfortunately for those of us who cringe when we see him enter the game, that was when he actually had an arm before injury took out 2008 season and with it, some of his velocity and movement on his pitches.
Among the names being talked about for the bullpen as outside shots is left-handers Mike Zagurski, Juan Perez, Dan Meyer, Ryan Freierbend and right-handers Eddie Bonine, Vance Worley, David Herndon, Michael Schwimer, Michael Stutes, Justin De Fratus, Drew Carpenter, and Scott Mathieson. If anyone gets injured, or struggles to the point of ineffectiveness one or more of these pitchers will probably be on the track to Citizen’s Bank Park and thrown into the bullpen mix.
While not in the immediate picture the Phillies also signed former number 1 draft picks from 1997 Jason Grilli and Matt Anderson to minor league deals just for extra added depth, just in case. Anderson was the actual first player chosen in that draft by the Tigers with Grilli following as the fourth player being picked by the Giants. No word on if the Phillies are trying to bring back Aaron Myette to corner the market on 1997 number 1’s which didn’t live up to promise.
I will talk about most of these pitchers in the next article, which will be dealing with the bench and organizational depth.
Barry Jeffrey Jr. writes “The Crow’s Nest” column for PSC.
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