CLEARWATER, Fla. - In almost every way, Antonio Alfonseca is the wild card of the Phillies' bullpen.
He is a cheap risk that could pay off big.
"I like this team, and I like the competition," Alfonseca said yesterday at Bright House Networks Field, where the Phillies held Day 2 of spring training in chilly and cloudy conditions. "I've been a closer before. I've been a setup guy before. Wherever they need me, I'll be there. But I like the competition."
The Phillies seem to prefer to find one setup man for closer Tom Gordon, although they have said they could use Alfonseca, Ryan Madson or Geoff Geary in the eighth inning depending on how they are pitching. Alfonseca, 34, is intriguing because he not only has 122 career saves, but also is the only relief pitcher other than Gordon to have at least four years of big-league service.
"You've got to love his experience," said pitching coach Rich Dubee, who was Alfonseca's pitching coach in Florida for four seasons, from 1998 to 2001. "Anybody who's pitched in the ninth and has as many saves as he has - a guy with 100 saves in the big leagues - definitely has done the job in the ninth, so you've got to think he could do the job in the eighth for sure.
"If Antonio comes in and throws lights-out like we anticipate and he's getting three outs in the eighth, then he's got a real good chance of becoming the eighth-inning guy."
Alfonseca is 30-35 with a 3.99 ERA in his 10-year career with the Marlins, Chicago Cubs, Atlanta Braves and Texas Rangers. He had a 1.69 ERA through his first 11 appearances last season with the Rangers before a sore right elbow eventually forced the team to release him.
"It was a lot of pain," he said.
Alfonseca didn't pick up a baseball for the next three or four months.
"I don't like to think about the past," he said. "I'm here now."
But the rest seemed to help. He threw in winter ball in the Dominican Republic and pitched well enough for the Phillies to take a chance on him. They offered him the big-league minimum of $380,000, which jumps to $700,000 if he makes the 25-man roster this season.
It is believed Alfonseca is a near lock to make the team.
"I feel fine," Alfonseca said. "I pitched almost 20 innings in the Dominican. I'm OK. My velocity is back."
Back when he won the Rolaids Relief Man award in 2000, when he led the National League with 45 saves, Alfonseca's fastball hit 93 to 96 m.p.h, Dubee said. He said reports on Alfonseca from the Dominican had his fastball hitting 93.
"It's a lot like I used to see when he pitched in Florida," Dubee said. "He could be a real big factor. If he's back to close to where he used to be? Yeah. He saved 45 games that one year. John Boles was the manager, and he used to call him the 'Dragon Slayer.' Antonio really took off for us and had a tremendous year."
Said manager Charlie Manuel: "He's very interesting. That's why we brought him over here."
See a slide show from Phillies camp at http://go.philly.com/photos.