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Phillies Starters Not Doing Bullpen Any Favors

Yes, the Phillies bullpen has been a raging tire fire. But they're also being asked to do a lot more than they should be.

Once again a Phillies starter failed to go more than six innings last night.
Once again a Phillies starter failed to go more than six innings last night.
Brian Garfinkel

If you turned off last night's game after the top of the eighth inning, you likely saved yourself from a torturous night's sleep.

The Phils' 'pen blew another one last night, this time a true stomach-punching, heart-breaking, kick to the balls that rings in your loins for days. After taking a 6-5 lead thanks to an improbable five-run eighth inning, the beleaguered bullpen gave it all right back, with "Closer For A Day" Jake Diekman giving up a grand slam to Dan Uggla in the top of the ninth, sending the Phils to a 9-6 defeat.

The fan reaction was priceless, and was one of those games that made you think twice about ever watching another Phillies game ever again. Or, at least taking a couple weeks off.

The bullpen will get the lion's share of the blame today. And that's completely understandable.

Through the first 13 games, the ERA for Phils' relievers is 28th in baseball and worst in the National League. They are tied with the White Sox for most blown saves, with four. And they are walking 4.25 batters per nine innings, 19th in the Majors.

Those are all really bad numbers. But perhaps much of the reason is because the 'pen, full of inexperienced youngsters and Jonathan Papelbon, has been overexposed.

After Roberto Hernandez' six-inning, 118-pitch, 6-walk, 2 ER performance last night, Phils' starters have logged 73.1 innings so far in 2014, 22nd in MLB. Perhaps more importantly...

In 11 of the Phils' 13 games thus far, the bullpen has been called to pitch at least three innings. Sometimes more.

That's not a huge ask if the manager has confidence in his bullpen and feels comfortable going to multiple arms in all kinds of situations. But that is not the case with the Phillies right now.

So far, the starting pitching has only been mediocre, at best.

Their 4.05 ERA ranks 17th in MLB, and their 3.68 BB/9 are second-worst in all of baseball, ahead of only the Twins. Their K/BB ratio of 2.03 is fourth-worst, ahead of the Twins, D-Backs and Astros. And the 30 walks they've issued is tied for second-worst in baseball, with the Twins and the White Sox, ahead of only the Diamondbacks.

Certainly, the Phils miss Cole Hamels. Without him, Phillies starters are walking too many hitters, driving their pitch counts up, and forcing them out of games early.

That means more pressure on a bullpen that has struggled throughout the first month of the season.

B.J. Rosenberg was used for the third straight game last night, even though Sandberg wanted to stay away from him. The results were predictable. Back-to-back-to-back home runs to three right-handed hitters in the top of the eighth, turning a 2-1 deficit into a 5-1 hole.

But what choice did Sandberg have? The recently-recalled and unspectacular Luis Garcia? While he pitched a scoreless eighth, it's understandable why the manager wasn't in a rush to throw him into a one-run game. Jeff Manship? He was probably a better option than a Rosenberg who was clearly tired and didn't have his best stuff, but it's Jeff Manship for crying out loud. It wasn't a slam dunk decision.

Certainly Antonio Bastardo would have been great there, but with right-handers Evan Gattis, Dan Uggla and Andrelton Simmons due up in the eighth, it's understandable Sandberg would want a right-hander in the game. And not only that, Bastardo had pitched three days in a row and was likely unavailable.

And why Jake Diekman in the ninth for the save with the Phillies up by just a run? With both Bastardo and Jonathan Papelbon having pitched three straight days, and with Diekman having received a day off on Sunday, Sandberg turned to who he thought was his best relief pitcher to close out the game, even though Diekman is really more of a lefty specialist.

Phils' relievers were coming off a very good weekend in which they gave up just three runs in 12 2/3 innings against Miami. It's no coincidence that the Phils won all three games. But last night, Sandberg really didn't have a whole lot of options. It's just a shame the pitchers he did use weren't able to execute, especially Diekman.

But the reason his best relief pitchers were unavailable last night is because they've been over-worked. Sandberg has four relievers he seems to trust right now, Diekman, Rosenberg, Bastardo and Papelbon. And all four were either unavailable or running on fumes last night.

So, the predictable thing happened. The Phillies' bullpen blew another game, this one to the hated Braves. And it was hard to stomach.

Hopefully, help is on the way. Mike Adams has been activated from the disabled list and Garcia has been sent down, which hopefully will give Sandberg a reliable right-handed arm for the later innings. They certainly need one and, undoubtedly, Sandberg is going to use him. Whether Adams has anything left remains to be seen.

And if Reading's Ken Giles isn't a full-fledged member of the 'pen by June, I'll be shocked.

As for last night, the bullpen was certainly culpable for the horror show that unfolded. But as you rip apart the 'pen today, don't forget about the starters, who really aren't doing them any favors.