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.
Barry Jeffrey Jr. writes “The Crow’s Nest” column for PSC.
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