4:19 PM AKDT, October 11, 2012
PHILADELPHIA --- If there's one common belief among Phillies insiders and those outside the organization ---scouts, reporters and fans --- it's that the bullpen personnel needs to be addressed.
I'm not arguing with that, but let's narrow the focus a bit.
Really, it's the eighth-inning role that is screaming for attention.
The Phillies' eighth-inning ERA (4.67) was the third worst in the National League. Only Houston (5.00) and Milwaukee (4.78) had higher ERAs in the eighth innings of games.
It's an issue the Phillies didn't have to worry about the previous four years. From 2008-11, Phillies pitchers posted an ERA of 3.94 or lower in the eighth inning of games. You have to go back to 2007 to find an eighth-inning ERA higher than what they put up this year (4.86).
Manager Charlie Manuel tried it all this season. Chad Qualls was so ineffective that general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. released him. Jose Contreras tore his UCL in June and was lost for the year. Michael Stutes had season-ending shoulder surgery after appearing in only six games.
Justin De Fratus, likely one of the first guys who would have been called up from Triple-A Lehigh Valley, got hurt late in spring training and spent most of the season on the disabled list.
Antonio Bastardo struggled in the eighth inning. Jake Diekman lacked the experience and poise to get the job done.
"The bullpen is probably something I would have liked to address a little better if I could," Amaro admitted. "Didn't happen."
That left Manuel and pitching coach Rich Dubee going with whoever was available and pitching well at the time.
Never did they find someone they could count on.
That has to change for 2013. The Phillies opted to drop $50-plus million on closer Jonathan Papelbon last December. When you do that, it only makes sense to have a reliable setup man serving as the bridge to him.
When it was all said and done, Phillies pitchers blew 19 saves, 15 of which came from guys not named Papelbon.
"Obviously you can't cover for all the things that happen as far as injuries and stuff are concerned, but I guess we probably could have done a little bit better job in the bullpen," Amaro said. "We were kind of relying on some guys that had some success last year and after having lost four of those guys during the course of the early part of the year, it was a little tough for us to recover. That was something I think that I regret a little bit."
Although it got lost in the shuffle, the bullpen, as a whole, looked like a different group in the second half of the 2012 season.
After posting a 4.76 ERA and a .258 batting average against before the All-Star break, the relief corps. did a 180 after the break. From July 13 to the end of the season, Phillies relievers lowered their collective ERA to 2.89 and had a BAA of only .200. They struck out 25 more hitters in 20 1/3 fewer innings and had a 13-11 record (they were 9-16 in the first half).
Several factors contributed.
Bastardo started pitching with more consistency and confidence. The lefty allowed only two runs in his final 18 appearances for a 1.29 ERA (2 ER, 14.0 IP, 4 BB, 27 SO and .180 BAA).
Jeremy Horst, who entered 2012 with limited big league experience, was called up from Triple-A Lehigh Valley on June 28 and pitched so well that it's hard to imagine he won't be on the 2013 Opening Day, 25-man roster. Horst, also a lefty, was 2-0 with a 0.93 ERA in his last 19 1/3 innings pitched (19 games). He struck out 27 and had an opponents batting average of .167 during that stretch.
Josh Lindblom and B.J. Rosenberg had some ups and downs, but late in the season put together enough consecutive dominant outings to make Amaro and Co. think when projecting an Opening Day roster.
Lindblom's power arm helped him strike out 21 in his last 18 1/3 innings. He had a 2.95 ERA in his final 19 outings.
The addition of a splitter, introduced to him by Papelbon in September, seemed to do wonders for Rosenberg. Although it's only in its infancy, Rosenberg showed remarkable command with it, and it was the main cog in him putting together a career-best 13.0-inning scoreless streak in eight games from Sept. 4 to Oct. 2.
In addition to locking up a much-needed set-up man, the Phillies will have some big decisions to make about the rest of the bullpen's makeup.
You have to assume they will go with seven relievers, two of whom are likely to be lefties. Count on those jobs going to Bastardo and Horst. And another goes to Papelbon.
That leaves just four spots. The organization is high on De Fratus, who compiled 10 scoreless outings in 13 appearances this September. Stutes (shoulder surgery) is expected to be ready for spring training. David Herndon (Tommy John surgery) is just beginning to toss, so don't factor him into the team's April plans.
Phillippe Aumont throws hard, has some wicked movement and improved his command. He absolutely will be in the mix. While 14 of his 18 appearances this year were scoreless, he struggled mightily on the road. In eight road games, Aumont had a 10.80 ERA (6 ER, 5.0 IP). He's not a lock for next season, but he's a strong contender for a spot, as are Lindblom and Rosenberg.
But at least one of those guys will be the odd man out if Amaro gets the eighth-inning guy (via trade or free agency) this team so desperate needs.
Rec. ERA IP BB SO BAA
First half 9-16 4.76 219.1 86 221 .258
Second half 13-11 2.89 199.0 92 246 .200
ERA IP BAA WHIP K/9
2012 Season 3.94 418.1 .231 1.29 10.05
N.L. Rank 10th 16th T-4th 9th 1st