A dependable bullpen can go a long way in easing the hearts of the Philly Phaithful. Games and even Championships can be won and lost by a team’s ability to successfully close out games. In 2008 Brad Lidge was perfect and that went a long way in propelling the Phillies to the World Series Championship. Since then, we have been holding our breaths to see if the game will be closed out. Once again the season will start with Lidge on the disabled list and it will be interesting to see how the pen will fall into place this season.
Yesterday we learned that Lidge will be out for at least the first 3-6 weeks of the season with a posterior rotator cuff strain. It is expected that he will be completely shut down for the 3-6 week time period and would need more time to get his arm strength back. There is a strong possibility that the Phillies will be without Lidge for the 1st half of the season. In 2004 former Phillies Closer Billy Wagner missed 44 days with a similar injury.
For the time being Charlie has said that Jose Contreras will be the team’s closer and Ryan Madson will stay in his role as the set up man. Contreras is a throwback pitcher who will take the ball as long as his arm is attached and has done a great job in his transition from a starter to a reliever. The “dump truck’s” arm seems to be ageless as he posted a solid 3.34 ERA in his first full season as a reliever. It will be interesting to see what the team does if Lidge’s absence will be longer than expected. Ryan Madson has been one of the best setup men in all of baseball and has the stuff to be elite closer in the league. But he hasn’t seemed to handle the transition from the 8th to the 9th inning in his career. It is likely that Madson is the future closer of the Phillies and it would be to his and the team’s benefit if he could assume the role at some point during the season.
The Phillies made their final roster decisions today and one of them was naming David Herndon as the final member of the bullpen. In the end it looked like the decision came down to Herndon and 24 year old Michael Stutes. If they would have wanted to keep Stutes, they would have to move someone off their 40 man roster and they may have not wanted to do that. Stutes has been one of the standouts during the Spring only allowing 1 earned run while giving up 4 hits in 11 innings of work. He showed his electric stuff averaging 11.45 strikeouts per nine innings. Herndon was a Rule 5 pick last season and spent the entire season with the team. He is a sinkerball pitcher who pitched better than his numbers indicated last season. A lot of ground balls seemed to have eyes and found their way past the infielders. He has worked on his slider over the offseason and it has reportedly improved a lot. If Herndon adds the ability to strike hitters out, he could slide into the role that Durbin has filled over the past few seasons.
Last season the team went through most of the year with only one lefty in the pen. They will start the 2011 season with 2; they are J.C Romero and 25 year old Antonio Bastardo. Romero was re-signed on a one-year deal after the team declined to pick up his option and seems to be on the down side of his career. He has always had trouble with his control but his velocity has continually dropped since his excellent 2008 season. Bastardo has the pure stuff to make him one of the best left handed specialists in the league. His fastball sits in the low 90’s but he does an excellent job of hiding the ball from the hitters. His fastball gets onto hitters a lot faster than they think it will. His solid spring cemented his spot on the team, he pitched 9 innings only give up one run on just 6 hits. He walked 4 while striking out 9. His problem has also been control but if he can locate his fastball he can be a key piece of the bullpen.
When the Phillies signed Cliff Lee over the offseason, Kyle Kendrick knew that the team now had 5 starting pitchers who were much better than him. He has been a true professional and has accepted his job as the long man. Due to the amount of innings the starters will eat, it is unlikely that Kendrick will have a lot of opportunities to pitch out of the pen. But he remains the teams 6th starter if any of the 5 miss any time. The most unknown commodity out of the bullpen might be veteran reliever Danys Baez who is in the 2nd year of 2 year deal. Baez who has 114 career saves was a horrible and unreliable option for the team last season. His performance was so bad that he wasn’t on the team’s post season roster. But I believe that he can be an asset on the team, relievers that throw in the mid 90’s and have a good breaking ball can be hard to find. If he can maintain good control he has the “stuff” to get hitters out.
Even without Lidge for most of the 1st half, I still believe they have the relievers to get the job done. The bullpen may be the hardest things to project on a team due to the inconsistency of most middle relievers. A lot of times relievers will be lights out one year and horrible the next. Bounce back years from Romero and Baez would provide a huge lift for the team. With all of the question marks with the team’s offense it looks like they will be playing in a lot of close games and the bullpen will play a huge role in the success of this team. Doc and the rest of the staff will pitch complete games every now and then but they can’t do it every night. It will be important that Charlie can get each guy into a role they are comfortable in. If some things go the Phillies way this season, they can still have a very good bullpen.