For two weeks, Phillies manager Joe Girardi tried to be patient. Clearly, though, something needed to change.
Eleven games into this 60-game sprint of a season, the Phillies bullpen -- 11 relief pitchers, in all -- allowed a total of 64 baserunners (51 hits, nine walks, four hit-by-pitches) in 31 innings and allowed 34 earned runs for a 9.87 ERA. In their hands, no lead felt safe, not even a 12-run bulge in the ninth inning Monday night.
And so, with 18% of the schedule gone, the Phillies took action Tuesday. They demoted Nick Pivetta (15.88 ERA in three appearances) to their satellite training camp in Lehigh Valley, designated Trevor Kelley (10.80 ERA in four appearances) for assignment, and called up prospect Connor Brogdon and well-traveled right-hander Blake Parker.
More help may be on the way, too, though not for several weeks. Left-hander Ranger Suarez and veteran right-hander David Robertson will join the team later this week before heading to Lehigh Valley to continue their recoveries from COVID-19 and Tommy John elbow surgery, respectively. It’s possible that both could be factors in the bullpen before the end of the season.
"I sure hope so," Girardi said.
The Phillies hoped Pivetta would be a key piece of the bullpen after he lost a training-camp competition for the fifth-starter job to Vince Velasquez. But he didn't pitch well enough to settle into the intended role as a multi-inning leverage reliever.
It seems the final straw came Monday night. Called on to close out a 13-1 game -- Girardi even spoke directly to Pivetta on the bullpen phone to explain why he was being used in such a lopsided game -- Pivetta faced seven batters and gave up six hits and six runs.
“Sometimes when you’re thrown into a bullpen, it’s a tough place to really work on things,” Girardi said. “I don’t think Nick has thrown the ball nearly as well as he is capable of throwing the ball. But we’re in a results-oriented business and we need to get him right. I believe he can get important outs for us.”
Reporters don’t have access to the clubhouse this season because of pandemic protocols, but the move was surely disappointing to Pivetta, who relocated last winter to Southern California to train with nearly a dozen other major-league pitchers, including young aces Jack Flaherty of the St. Louis Cardinals and Lucas Giolito of the Chicago White Sox.
It marks the second consecutive year that the Phillies demoted Pivetta less than one month into the season, casting doubt over when or if he will get another chance.
"Of course he's disappointed. Who isn't?" Girardi said. "I think anyone who's ever sat in that chair and gets the news that you're going down, it hurts. But it's what you do after that initial hurt that you have that's really important. We need Nick to go get after it and pitch like he's capable of."
Brogdon, 25, might be the Phillies’ best reliever prospect. A 6-foot-6 right-hander with a solid fastball-changeup combination, he posted a 2.61 ERA and 12.6 strikeouts per nine innings across three levels of the minor leagues in 2019.
"There's a lot of upside with Connor," Girardi said. "He's got a swing-and-miss changeup and he's been throwing the ball well."
Unlike several other veteran relievers who went to training camp with the Phillies, Parker decided not to opt out of his minor-league contract after being informed that he wouldn’t make the opening-night roster. The 35-year-old right-hander has a 3.56 career ERA in parts of seven seasons with six teams, including a 5.04 mark in 23 appearances for the Phillies last season.
"Hopefully these two can help out our bullpen and we can be more productive in that area," Girardi said.
Brogdon and Parker had to be added to the 40-man roster. To make room, the Phillies removed Kelley and outfielder Nick Williams, the last remaining player from the Cole Hamels trade in 2015.
Williams, a left-handed hitter, was seemingly blocked on a roster that features three lefty-swinging outfielders (Bryce Harper, Adam Haseley, Jay Bruce) and a switch-hitter (Roman Quinn). Williams hit 12 homers and slugged .473 in 313 at-bats in 2017 but saw his playing time vanish after the Phillies signed Harper last year.
Hard-throwing reliever Robert Stock, designated for assignment by the Phillies last month, was called up Tuesday by the Boston Red Sox. ... Wednesday night’s game will air live on COZI-TV. ... Zach Eflin will start Wednesday night against Orioles lefty Wade LeBlanc.