When the Phillies signed Chad Durbin to a free agent contract and gave Raul Valdes a spot in the rotation out of spring training, bloggers and reporters alike questioned why the Phils would waste two spots in the ‘pen on two not-so-hot veterans when the team had a slew of young, hard throwers waiting in the wings.
In other words, the Phillies currently have the bullpen everyone said they wanted.
Entering Monday’s game against the Washington Nationals, the Phils’ ‘pen was still struggling. Their 4.58 ERA is still worst in the National League, as is their OPS-allowed of .787 and WHIP of 1.50. The late innings have turned into an adventure once again, renewing a big problem that cost the Phillies numerous wins in 2012.
Of course, much of those numbers are the result of Durbin’s 16 appearances and 9.00 ERA and Valdes’ 10 appearances and 7.65 ERA.
However, the Phils are now employing a bullpen made up almost entirely of youngsters. Antonio Bastardo, of course, has been around for a while. And with Adams on the shelf, he is the new eighth inning man. His 2.67 ERA is excellent, however, his control is still an issue (17 BBs in 30 1/3 IPs). His K-rate is also down from last year (14.0 to 9.5). At 27, Bastardo needs to establish himself as the shut-down reliever he has shown he can be at times, because he does not engender a ton of confidence in those who watch him just yet.
The rest of the bullpen is full of unproven arms with a lot of potential. Unfortunately, many of them have had a hard time harnessing their control issues and getting consistent outs.
Justin De Fratus, 25, has a fastball that sits in the mid ’90s and decent breaking stuff, but has posted a 5.09 ERA in 26 games so far. His WHIP of 1.585 is far too high and he’s given up an average of just over a hit per inning. Jeremy Horst, 27, is on the DL with a strained left elbow, and was having a terrible season up until his injury. He was stellar last year though, with a 1.15 ERA in 32 games and K-rate of 11.5. This year, his ERA has jumped to 6.23 and has an unsightly WHIP of 1.808. He was the victim of some very bad luck early, and then was just plain bad later.
Phillippe Aumont, 24, has perhaps the best arm in the organization, with a fastball in the mid to upper-90s and a curveball that should be illegal. But the guy just can’t throw strikes consistently. In 22 games he has an ERA of 4.19 and a WHIP of 1.914. He has walked 14 batters in 19 1/3 innings pitched, but has also struck out 19. There’s a ton of potential there, but Charlie Manuel and Rich Dubee justifiably can’t trust him until he gets his amazing stuff under control. If he ever does, he’s a shut-down closer-in-the-making.
Michael Stutes, 26, came back and got off to a rocky start after missing all of last year with an injury, posting a 5.17 ERA in 14 games. He’s now on the DL again. Jake Diekman, 26, the side-winding left-hander that could be a murderous LOOGY at the Major League level, also has had major control issues, posting a 5.00 ERA and a 1.778 WHIP in 12 Major League games this year. His numbers in the minors weren’t much better, by the way.
Former first-round pick Joe Savery, 27, has actually performed quite well since he was recalled, with a 1.50 ERA in just 9 appearances. Although, of all the relievers, his stuff is probably the least impressive.
Then there’s J.C. Ramirez, 24, who was acquired along with Aumont in the trade of Cliff Lee to the Mariners after the 2009 season. Desperate for another arm, the Phils called up Ramirez even though he had a 5.30 ERA in the minors this year. Lately he’s been tasked with getting some late-game outs, although he struggled on Sunday, retiring only two of the six batters he faced. He has an ERA of 3.38 in just 5 1/3 innings so far.
The Phillies’ young relievers are learning, and that’s important. They’re also very cheap and have a lot of potential. And we’re dealing with small sample sizes, so that has to be considered as well.
But as we grouse about the state of the Phils’ ‘pen, keep in mind this is exactly what we all wanted to see coming out of spring training. It’s now up to these great young arms, so loaded with potential, to actually harness that potential and start to show some consistency.
No one wants to see Ruben Amaro trade away more young talent for a “veteran” bullpen arm that will probably just end up being a bust anyway. That’s why it’s so important for these young relievers to start doing better now.
Please, guys. Save Amaro from himself.