The Bullpen’s Rocky Start

Mario HollandsYou knew the Phillies would not score 14 runs every night — they needed 81 games to reach 10+ runs in a game last season — and if they planned to win they would need to win close games like the one they lost last night.

It is why Ryne Sandberg drilled fundamentals into his players’ heads in Spring Training. It is why they said they valued versatility and defense when they finalized their bench.

The Phillies would need to play soundly to make up for any lack of pop offensively.

Of course, they also would need to pitch well.

It is just two games, but the Phillies bullpen isn’t off to a great start. They have allowed six hits, four runs, six walks and have struck out six in 6 1/3 innings. They have allowed three of six inherited runners to score. (They finished 29th in baseball last season, allowing 36.2 percent of inherited runners to score.) Sandberg already has leaned twice on left-handers Jake Diekman and Antonio Bastardo and right-hander B.J. Rosenberg. He also chose rookie left-hander Mario Hollands to face the top of the Rangers lineup in the bottom of the ninth last night rather than use one of his more experienced right-handers. Hollands, who was making his big league debut, walked two of the three batters he faced (the left-handed Shin-Soo Choo and Prince Fielder) before Rosenberg entered and allowed the game-winning hit to Adrian Beltre.

“I’m just using the guys in the ‘pen,” Sandberg said, asked if he is experimenting to find the best relievers for the best roles. “They’re here for a reason. They’re here to pitch. … It’s not experimenting at all. It’s putting them in the best situations to pitch and be successful.”

Theoretically, Sandberg could have used a righty to face the bottom of the lineup in the eighth and have Bastardo pitch against the top of the lineup in the ninth, but he said he wanted his best reliever (other than closer Jonathan Papelbon) to keep the game tied with a chance to win in the ninth.

“Bastardo is our eighth-inning guy,” Sandberg said.

Rosenberg has allowed three of four inherited runners to score in his first two appearances. Brad Lincoln, who was a lock to make the bullpen before Spring Training opened in February, and Justin De Fratus are still looking for their first action.

“Coming out of Spring Training, he was throwing the best, as far as throwing strikes and doing the job as a seventh- or eighth-inning right-hander pitcher,” Sandberg said of Rosenberg.

Relievers are going to blow leads and blow games. It happens in every bullpen. But the margin for error for the Phillies is small. They will need an effective bullpen to have a chance this season. This isn’t the start they wanted.

2 Comments

“Bastardo is our eighth inning guy…” ??? I bow to Sandberg’s superior baseball knowledge, but if he is to succeed in the manager’s role, especially with this team, he needs to unlock himself from this kind of traditional thinking. There are critical high-leverage situations where you need to put the best arm you have out there because the game is on the line right now – not two innings down the road. Hollands making his debut in the 9th last night is not the best use of a bullpen. Saving Bastardo for the 8th exclusively, and Pap the 9th exclusively is a luxury Sandberg can’t afford. Pap was well under-utilized last year in my estimation because ‘saving’ games does not always occur in the 9th. Sandberg and his PC need some out of box thinking about how this bullpen is deployed, or we are going to see a repeat of last year’s meltdown. Put Pap out there in the 7th to protect a lead and squelch a rally if circumstances dictate. Let Bastardo close it out. I hated LaRussa as much as anyone, but he knew how to wield a ‘pen.

Excellent post, Greg Foltz!!

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