Season preview: Of the seven relievers slated to head north, only one – Chad Durbin -- will feel totally at home in their role. The rest will be learning on the job and adapting to new scenery.
Let’s cut right to the chase. There are a couple of prickly similarities between the bullpen as it sets up today and the one that tried to make the grade in a contentious 2006. Recall the Phillies had a closer on the mend that we were unsure about anyway (Tom Gordon). Recall that Ryan Madson was asked to head up what was basically a slapped-together committee. Counting appearances, the Phillies’ top closers were Gordon, Madson, Geoff Geary and lefty veterans Aaron Fultz, Arthur Rhodes and Rheal Cormier. The Phils also handed plenty of innings to converted starter Ryan Franklin, a project that would end in a salary dump trade with Cincinnati (Franklin later became an all-star closer with St. Louis). Later on, the Phillies would lean on Rick White heavily to finish out their 85-77 campaign. Good times.
Bear in mind Pat Gillick and the top brass felt at ease with this group before the season, perhaps a similar level of comfort to what Ruben Amaro and his men share today.
Folks, I’m not gonna lie to you. There’s a chance the ever-swinging bullpen pendulum could sway toward another '06. However, the Phillies embrace several lucky charms they didn’t have back then: the confidence and track record of championship success; an even better offense; a rotation set to provide a steady diet of quality starts; and the possibility that Lidge and J.C. Romero return to form.
Nevertheless, with Opening Day looming, there’s an uneasy tone setting in, and perhaps the realization that the Phils may have bitten off more than they can chew with too many projects in the 'pen. Jose Contreras, for example, worked as a reliever only five times in 2009 and nine way back in 2003. Yesterday, pitching coach Rich Dubee told members of the media that he was concerned with the 38-year-old’s command. Indeed, Contreras is having a miserable spring.
Antonio Bastardo, who defaults as the top left-hander, hasn’t impressed, either. He’s not only new to the majors, but new to competition, period, appearing in just 61 minor league games in four seasons, and just 15 in relief, making David Herndon’s 132-game career seems like an eternity. Herndon, the biggest surprise of spring, has never appeared above Double-A.
Even though he profiles as a starter, I like Kyle Kendrick’s chances in long relief. Deep starts will be his worst enemy and could result in a ticket to Allentown. Initially, Chad Durbin may be asked to work more eighth innings than the Phillies would prefer. Danys Baez goes from a low-pressure environment in Baltimore to the high expectations in Philadelphia and the knock on Baez is that he melts under pressure. Which brings us to Madson, who blew seven saves in 17 chances while posting a 7.81 ERA in the closer role in 2009.
If the Phillies tank, the bullpen will be why.
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