When the Phillies signed David Robertson to a two-year, $23 million contract this off-season, they did so with the comfort of knowing that Robertson had made at least 60 appearances in each of the last nine years and had been one of the most durable relief pitchers in baseball. That’s no small commodity when talking about relief pitching, a position that is typically defined by volatility.
So it was a bit distressing when the Phils announced on Monday that Robertson was headed to the 10-day Injured List due to soreness in his right elbow and recalled right-hander Drew Anderson from Triple-A Lehigh Valley to take his place on the 25-man roster. Robertson told reporters that he had been dealing with some sporadic discomfort in his elbow and that he wanted to rest it now rather than risk a serious injury.
***UPDATE... Prior to Tuesday night’s game, the Phillies made another move.***
Phils are using some of their limited option flexibility in the bullpen. Jerad Eickhoff is up, Drew Anderson is optioned.— The Good Phight (@TheGoodPhight) April 16, 2019
The hope is Robertson will be able to come off the IL after the minimum amount of time has elapsed, but his departure couldn’t have come at a worse time. After starting off the season by allowing four earned runs in his first three appearances, the last of which was his three-walk, walk-off implosion to the Nationals in Washington, Robertson had spun four straight scoreless outings over 4.2 innings, with five strikeouts and one walk.
What’s disturbing is that this is the first time Robertson has spent time on the IL because of an arm injury. The last time he went on what was then called the “Disabled List,” in 2014, it was because of a groin strain, and in 2012, he missed time because of an oblique injury. Those were the only other times he’s been injured, so this elbow issue for the recently-turned 34-year-old is a bit concerning.
Thankfully, after a rough stretch, the ‘pen has been a strength the last two games. And they’ve been used a lot.
In Sunday’s series finale against the Marlins in Miami, Phils relievers twirled eight scoreless frames (Robertson threw two of them), struck out 14, walked two and gave up just three hits. In last night’s opener against the Mets, the ‘pen kept the Phillies in the game after Aaron Nola was knocked out after four innings and pitched seven frames with one run allowed on five hits, five strikeouts and three walks. Over these last two games, they’ve lowered their ERA from 5.44 to 4.26.
So what do the Phillies do at the back of the bullpen while they await Robertson’s return?
It’s likely Gabe Kapler will use a collection of relievers in the latter innings, and thankfully this is an area where the team has some depth. After a rough start of his own (four earned runs allowed in his first three innings), Seranthony Dominguez has gone four straight appearances without allowing a run. Hector Neris has been outstanding all season, with a 2.84 ERA in seven appearances and a save, eight strikeouts and two walks. Pat Neshek has a 1.17 ERA in his first eight games this year, with five strikeouts and just one walk, Victor Arano has emerged from his Clearwater funk and, since being recalled from Lehigh Valley, has struck out seven and walked one in four innings over two appearances, and Adam Morgan has been a lifesaver, both against right-handers and left-handers, with no runs allowed in his first eight games, with seven strikeouts and no walks.
Robertson and the team are hopeful this just a quick trip on the IL and that he’ll be ready to return to action soon, but if it goes on too long, might the Phillies pivot to Craig Kimbrel?
MLB.com’s Jon Morosi reported Kimbrel may be closer to signing with a team, and rumblings are the Milwaukee Brewers could be that squad. MLB Network’s Ken Rosenthal reported earlier this week that Kimbrel is looking for a deal somewhere between Wade Davis’ three-year, $52 million deal and Zack Britton’s three-year, $39 million. A three-year, $40-45 million contract, averaging about $15 million a year, would probably get the job done, if Rosenthal’s rumor is accurate.
Getting an established, 9th-inning closer would certainly help the Phillies bullpen and, at the same time, prevent one of their competitors in the NL East from snagging him. All four contenders (Phils, Mets, Braves and Nationals) have seen their bullpens struggle in 2019, and yet, Kimbrel remains a free agent. Could landing him put one of these teams over the top?
Signing Kimbrel to a three-year deal that pays him $15 million a season is reasonable, and if possible, the Phillies should act on it, regardless of Robertson’s health and the overall struggles of the ‘pen. He would provide just one more stabilizing force and an experienced 9th-inning guy.
There is one other possibility. The Phillies could move one of their young starters — Nick Pivetta, Vince Velasquez or Zach Eflin — to the back of the ‘pen if they falter in the rotation, although that’s not a solution most are rooting for.
The hope is Robertson will be back on the mound soon and pitching with the effectiveness he’s displayed consistently over the last decade. If not, the Phils may have to turn to some outside help, if that help is still available.