SAN DIEGO - The last of the paperwork signed, J.C. Romero walked into the Phillies' clubhouse and raised his right arm, a white document hanging loosely from his fingers.
"Who's the new guy?" first baseman Ryan Howard asked.
Romero isn't exactly new - even during his 50-game suspension, which ended yesterday when the Phillies reinstated him from the restricted list, the lefthander was often present in the home clubhouse. But the club views his return to the active roster in much the same way they would a midseason acquisition.
After all, the bullpen hasn't exactly struggled this season. While Romero's absence had a noticeable impact on a handful of late-game situations and the .102 batting average he held lefties to in 2008 would have helped, fellow lefthander Scott Eyre has held opposing hitters to .233 while posting a 2.84 ERA. Overall, the bullpen entered last night's series finale against the Padres with a 3.77 ERA, the sixth-best mark in the National League. It also was among the league leaders in fewest walks and hits allowed per inning, wins (tied for third with 11) while tied for the third-fewest losses (six).
So Romero's presence is viewed more as fortification than salvation. The hard-throwing lefty eventually will be used to take some pressure off setup man Ryan Madson in the eighth inning, while also lightening the load on righthanders Clay Condrey and Chad Durbin, both of whom are in the top 10 among National League relievers in innings pitched.
Manager Charlie Manuel admitted yesterday that he wasn't sure how his bullpen would respond when the Phillies learned in January of Romero's suspension for a positive drug test. Although the Phillies eventually added lefthander Jack Taschner, Eyre was the only true lefty specialist on the roster.
"I was very concerned, because Scott Eyre limited us to one lefty in the 'pen," Manuel said. "Of course, then we picked up Taschner, but Scott Eyre, as far as matching up in situations, he's done a tremendous job for us."
He made his 2009 debut last night, allowing an unearned run and two hits in 1 1/3 innings.
Bastardo, Part II
Barring an unforeseen turn of events, lefthander Antonio Bastardo will get another chance to unleash the wicked fastball that held the Padres to one run in six innings in Tuesday's 10-5 win. Although Charlie Manuel stopped short of declaring the 23-year-old prospect the starter for the Sunday Night Baseball showdown against the Dodgers, he and pitching coach Rich Dubee said Bastardo had earned another opportunity.
"I'm not saying it's him definitely, but I'd say it's pretty close, unless something happens," Manuel said. "I liked the way he pitched."
Thanks to a big early lead and a heavy dose of adrenaline that, according to Manuel, had Bastardo gripping his offspeed pitches too tightly, the rookie threw almost exclusively fastballs while holding the Padres to four hits. But Bastardo has a slider that he worked on extensively during spring training. He also throws a changeup.
"He did a hell of a job," Dubee said.
Useless info department
After going 3-for-5 with two home runs and five RBI on his 37th birthday Tuesday, Raul Ibanez said he could not remember if he had ever homered on his birthday before. Well, he has - once, on June 2, 2006, against the Kansas City Royals. Ibanez entered Tuesday night 5-for-18 with one RBI in his career on his birthday.
More useless info
Antonio Bastardo was one of two pitchers who won their major league debuts against former Cy Young Award winners Tuesday night. Oakland's Vin Mazzaro beat Bartolo Colon and the White Sox, marking the first time two pitchers won their big-league debuts against former Cy Young winners on the same day, according to Elias Sports Bureau.
The Padres placed outfielder Scott Hairston on the disabled list (strained left biceps) and promoted Will Venable from Triple A Portland. That gives them two former Princeton basketball players in the lineup. Righthander Chris Young averaged 13.3 points and 5.8 rebounds per game as a center from 1998-2000. Venable averaged 9.3 points and 2.3 assists per game from 2001-05, starting his final three seasons at guard.
The Phillies optioned lefthander Sergio Escalona to Lehigh Valley to make room for J.C. Romero on the roster . . . Padres righthander Jake Peavy, who left Tuesday night's game with the flu and is the subject of much trade speculation, politely declined to speak with reporters last night. *