The score is 3 - 2, Phillies Mike Adams started a clean eighth, but gave up a double to Denard Span, who then stole third. Span's double was a floater down the right field line over Howard and it was about 6 inches from being foul. The Phillies played the infield in, and Anthony Rendon hit a single to center, scoring Span. Jayson Werth hit a grounder through the middle to put runners at first and second with nobody out.
Still, the game was tied, and, well yuck.
In comes Jake Diekman to face lefty Adam LaRoche. The Phillies countered with a fairly conventional traditional defensive alignment, but not an outright shift. The ball was hit not especially sharply just to the shortstop side of second. This should have been a double play ball with better defensive placement, but as it was, Rendon scored. Nats 4, Phillies 3.
Ian Desmond came in and went the opposite way with a "double" that Marlon Byrd unwisely tried to make a play on. Had he kept it in front of him, it is probably a single, though he may not have been able to cut it off from where he was playing. This scores Werth, and there are runners at second and third. Nobody is out. Nats 5, Phillies 3.
Diekman struck out three of the next four batters, wrapped around a walk, and escapes further damage. He delivered a soft liner, a ground ball, and three K's. With better defensive positioning, arguably, the first hit is a double play ball. That grounder resulted in a run possibly from the Phillies continued failure to be aggressive with defensive shifts just as much as Diekman not being able to avoid contact.
Recall that Diekman came in originally with runners at first and second with nobody out. The 2013 run expectancy matrix expects that 1.4 runs will score under this situation. Two runs scored. Importantly, Diekman did not melt down and make it worse. He did get the Phillies out of the inning without allowing substantially more damage than could be expected on average, dealing 98 mph heat.
Diekman has pitched in 13.1 innings and struck out 23 batters. 23! He has walked 6, with 1 being intentional. The rates are:
His HR/FB rate is high (37.5%), but if you go with xFIP, he's at 1.80.
As the splits show, he deals death against LHB, but he is pretty ordinary, or even bad against RHB, though most of that is related to the walks. We've discussed his split-ishness ad nauseum here, but the Phillies keep using him in a non-LOOGY role and he gets more and more appearances against RHP. In that vein, last night he faced 6 batters, and 3 reached base. Two of three RHB reached. LaRoche, the sole lefty to reach, in my opinion should not have reached.
The bottom line is that I walked away last night thinking that Diekman actually pitched pretty well. When the feces hit the ventilator, he was still calm, cool, and collected, and he whiffed dudes with that 98 mph heat, keeping them honest with what looked more like a "show me" slider than an effective second pitch. But that fastball is unhittable.
The Phillies do not have an 8th inning bullpen curse. They have a bad bullpen. My son last night, after nearly exploding, was able to retain his sanity by saying, "You know what, dad? This is all Chad Durbin's fault, somehow." That helped me retain my perspective.
The way I see Jake Diekman right now is as a piece of the solution. If the Phillies are in the lead with lefties coming up, Diekman should get the call regardless of the inning. He can work around a RHB, and that appears to be what he is doing. If the RHB is a weak hitter, he can deal with him. If it is Jayson Werth or someone similar, it is a pitch-around. Not an intentional walk, but you don't go after him.
Diekman is 27, so he probably is what he is right now. He is not likely a shutdown inning guy, but he murders lefties and has enough wicked stuff to prey on weak RHB. If the Phillies are to solve their bullpen issues this year, they need to start using the pieces they have in ways that increase the likelihood of success. Do not miscast them in roles for which they are not suited.
Diekman is not the "8th Inning Guy" but he can be an option in the right circumstances. Also, if you need a critical out against a lefty, he is the ultimate LOOGY, even though he can be more than that if needed.
As the Phillies try to solve this bullpen problem, they need to be better about using matchups rather than roles. It's hard to justify having a "ROOGY" on the roster, but they may need one for a while until they can get a player in the pen who can get folks out on both sides of the plate.
Papelbon has solidified his performance in the 9th lately, and Diekman can deal with the lefty-heavy stretches effectively, but as tweeted last night by one of the Phillies beats, the Phillies are willing to harvest organs to trade for a pen option that is reliably effective against RHP. That is absolutely true, and hopefully they realize that guy is not Diekman. If they can't find that guy, the temptation is to misuse people in that role. I'd hate to see them mess up an asset as awesome as Jake Diekman by miscasting him in a role he is just not suited for.