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Phillies have makings of a solid bullpen core

Though some young players could fill key bullpen roles, Phillies should still not avoid free-agent market to fill a couple spots.

Phillies pitcher Antonio Bastardo. (Matt Slocum/AP file)
Phillies pitcher Antonio Bastardo. (Matt Slocum/AP file)Read more

THAT THE PHILLIES finished second-to-last in the National League in bullpen ERA wasn't for a lack of trying. No team in the majors fiddled with more combinations of relievers in the later innings of games. Fifteen different relievers made at least 15 appearances for the Phillies in 2013, by far the most in the major leagues (the Mets had the second most, with 12). In fact, the Phillies are the only team in baseball history - or, at least, baseball history as recorded by - to ever use that many relievers.

So . . . what did they learn?

Two things:

1) They have a solid trio of young relievers with strikeout stuff who should enter spring training with roster spots. Antonio Bastardo wasn't exactly a new revelation, but he was on a blistering pace before his season was ended by a performance-enhancing-drug suspension resulting from the Biogenesis mess. His final numbers: 2.32 ERA, 9.9 K/9, 4.4 BB/9, 0.4 HR/9. Neither Jake Diekman nor Ethan Martin has Bastardo's track record, but both gave the Phillies enough reason to factor them into their plans for next season. Diekman finished the year with a 2.58 ERA, 9.6 K/9, 3.8 BB/9 and only one home run allowed in 38 1/3 innings (thanks in part to a solid 1.04 ground ball-to-fly ball ratio). In order to work his way into a permanent seventh- or eighth-inning role, he needs to show he can maintain his command over the course of an entire season (He logged 27 1/3 innings in 2012). But at the very least, he is a strikeout arm who is nearly unhittable against lefties and who can take a batter or an inning in a middle-relief role. Less of a sure thing is Martin, but the hard-throwing righthander at the very least seems suited for a long-relief/spot-starter role.

2) They should count those relievers as birds in hand and still look to add a couple of veterans via free agency or trade. The Phillies are well aware how volatile relievers can be. They entered 2013 counting on lefty Jeremy Horst after the 26-year-old logged 31 1/3 innings in 2012 with a 1.15 ERA, 11.5 K/9, 4.0 BB/9 and 0.3 HR/9 (eerily similar to Diekman's numbers this year, now that you mention it). He posted a 6.23 ERA in 28 appearances before his season ended because of an elbow injury. Granted, the free-agent market hasn't been kind to the Phillies lately. Mike Adams is a question mark for 2014 after shoulder surgery. Chad Durbin and Chad Qualls were both busts, as was Danys Baez before them. On paper, though, the Phillies have more reason to believe that their young internal options will come through if called upon than they did last year, given Diekman's emergence and Martin's addition to the fray.

Other variables could factor into the Phillies' final Opening Day formula, including righthander Justin De Fratus, who had an inconsistent season, but showed plenty of signs of promise. Righthander B.J. Rosenberg received some positive praise for his performance, but will likely enter spring training on the outside looking in, along with Phillippe Aumont, Mike Stutes, Joe Savery and Mauricio Robles. For now, though, the Phillies will focus on making the most of their free-agent dollars.

On Twitter: @ByDavidMurphy