At last, it appears the Phillies will get a dose of relief for their bullpen.
Reinforcements from their alternate training site in Lehigh Valley? Probably not. A trade? Unlikely. Seven-inning games? Bingo.
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With Tropical Storm Isaias washing out Tuesday night’s game in New York, the Phillies and Yankees will play a doubleheader Wednesday at Citizens Bank Park. And in the universe of pandemic baseball, that means two seven-inning games, a one-off rule change made by Major League Baseball to limit the time that players and coaches must spend at the ballpark and to give them more recovery time in anticipation of the need for more frequent doubleheaders to jam 60 games into a two-month season.
If that isn’t the best news the Phillies have gotten lately, it surely must be close. Because shortening games from 27 outs to 21 – especially when Zack Wheeler and Aaron Nola start, as they will in the first and second games, respectively, Wednesday – figures to create less exposure for a bullpen that is already living up to the concerns that existed even within the organization before the season began.
It’s early, manager Joe Girardi reminded everyone Monday night after a 6-3 defeat at Yankee Stadium in which Deolis Guerra became the latest Phillies reliever to turn a close game into a lost cause in the middle innings. Guerra inherited a 3-1 deficit from Jake Arrieta in the sixth inning and promptly issued a leadoff walk, hit a batter, and gave up a three-run home run to Yankees third baseman Gio Urshela.
Sound familiar? Indeed, it was reminiscent of the July 24 opener against the Miami Marlins. Ramon Rosso replaced Nola in the sixth inning of a 3-1 game and went walk-wild pitch-strikeout-wild pitch-RBI double to stretch the margin to 5-1.
Two days later, with the Phillies leading 5-4, lefty Cole Irvin gave up two runs on three consecutive one-out hits in the fourth inning and Reggie McClain allowed a three-run homer in the fifth of an eventual 11-6 loss to the Marlins.
“I think you have to give each guy three to four appearances to be fair to them with consistent work,” Girardi said Monday night. “You ask all relievers, they want consistent work. They don’t want to sit for a week and then expect to go out there and have pinpoint control and have a good feel for their breaking ball and whatever other pitches they have. They need some consistent work before we really make a judgment.”
Fair enough. In Guerra’s case, at least, the Phillies idled for seven days as fallout from the Marlins’ coronavirus outbreak before facing the Yankees. If ever there was an excuse for him to throw five of his first seven pitches for balls, then fall behind Urshela before hanging a change-up, that would seem like a good one.
“Deolis threw the ball really well [against the Marlins] and was not able to repeat it,” Girardi said. “I feel like he has the ability to help us. He just didn’t have it [Monday night].”
The fact remains, though, that the Phillies’ 11-man bullpen is light on big-league experience beyond closer Hector Neris, Tommy Hunter, lefties Jose Alvarez and Adam Morgan and converted starter Nick Pivetta. And with the Phillies having led after only 10 of 36 innings so far this season, it has been difficult for Girardi to get to those relievers in appropriately high-leverage situations.
The Phillies decided to go young in the bullpen when they released veterans Francisco Liriano, Anthony Swarzak and Bud Norris in training camp. None were a particularly appealing option. Liriano has since decided against playing this season; Swarzak and Norris haven’t caught on with another team.
But in the absence of more relievers with proven track records, pitching coach Bryan Price talked last month of “trying to catch lightning in a bottle” in the bullpen. He characterized several Phillies relievers as “wild cards” and said the team would “need somebody – or a couple guys – to step up and have that type of season that you weren’t sure you were going to get from them.”
It might still happen. If not Guerra, McClain and Rosso, maybe youngsters Damon Jones, Connor Brogdon or Addison Russ – none of whom has major-league experience – will eventually come up from Lehigh Valley and have an impact – and perhaps sooner than later.
For now, Girardi will stick with who he has and hope to get something better from them.