The Philadelphia Phillies continued to pare their roster today, further clarifying the once crowded bullpen situation.
Somewhat surprisingly, the Phils decided to release Edward Mujica today rather than guaranteeing him a spot on the Opening Day roster. Just a day ago right here, I predicted that not only would Mujica make the roster, but that he would be involved in the race to become the new closer.
With that option out of play, the team’s thought process has to be considered as unknowable. There is rampant speculation that three lefties and three righties have likely made the team. That would continue to be my speculation as well, but admittedly that is all it is – speculation.
The three lefties remain as they were yesterday: Brett Oberholtzer, James Russell, and Daniel Stumpf. The three righties would be David Hernandez, Jeanmar Gomez, and Dalier Hinojosa. With Mujica gone, the closer decision would seem to be coming down to either Hernandez or Hinojosa.
“Unless I’m 100 percent sure about somebody I want to call a closer, then I’m not going to call anybody a closer,” manager Pete Mackanin said per Philly.com’s Matt Gelb. “I hope we have one. But I’m not going to name one right now. Just to call a guy closer, that doesn’t really mean anything.”
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Bailey looked as if he was taking control of the closer job as recently as just a week ago, but his performance and stuff have taken a dip. On the other hand, Frieri has seen his stuff improve as spring has moved along. Meanwhile, Neris may be the most consistent and versatile of the group, which could find him in the role.
The Phillies could conceivably send both Bailey and Neris to the minors, the former until May 1st, and the latter still having an option to use. In that scenario, the club would be banking on the improved fastball velocity of Frieri to carry over into the season.
Of course, with the surprises that we have already seen in the bullpen group, would it be a shocker to have the Phils release Russell, or return Stumpf to Kansas City, and give jobs to two of the right-handers? With five righties in the starting rotation, that is not very likely. But at this point, anything is possible.
Improvement from the bullpen will be a key to any overall improvement from the pitching staff. As the Grapefruit League developed, all of the varied new options that the Phillies had brought in seemed to create strong competition, which portended just such improvement. Now as the final decisions are made, there appear to be just as many questions as with last year’s group.