Phillies Notes: Seeking answers on Bastardo
The lefty reliever is struggling. Does he need more work or better mechanics?
ATLANTA - A TV in the visiting dugout at Turner Field showed the inside of the Phillies bullpen early Tuesday afternoon. Pitching coach Rich Dubee sat down and glanced above his right shoulder. There was Antonio Bastardo, winding up and whipping a white towel at Jose Contreras to sharpen his mechanics.
"Sometimes," Dubee said, "I let him go on his own."
Bastardo represents the most curious case on the Phillies pitching staff after nearly a month of baseball. He faced only 18 batters in April and appeared in seven games. Entering play Tuesday, no pitcher in baseball had pitched in as many games while recording as few outs (31/3 innings) as Bastardo.
On Tuesday night, he threw a scoreless seventh inning against the Braves.
His fastball velocity is a tick or two below his 2011 average, but he threw the ball with spark Monday. There was no control, though, and he issued a walk that ultimately led to a run. He has struck out five and walked four in 2012.
There have been questions about Bastardo's health since last September, when his dynamite stuff became ordinary. Both Bastardo and Dubee said that is unfounded.
"I need more time on the mound," Bastardo said. "With that time, I can make adjustments and get back to what I was."
Charlie Manuel concurred.
"We've got to get him out there more," Manuel said. "We've got to get him sharp, whether it's one hitter, a full inning, or two hitters."
But Dubee dissented. He said Bastardo is pitching less simply because the situations have not dictated his usage. But Bastardo was one of the best relievers in baseball for the first five months of the 2011 season.
"I don't know that he has to pitch more," Dubee said. "I want him to pitch more effectively." He cited Bastardo's 33 percent first-pitch strikes, a huge decline from 60 percent in 2011.
Bastardo has always dealt with a nerve issue that occasionally causes numbness in his fingers. That is not contributing to the current conundrum, he said.
"I've been pitching like that the whole time," Bastardo said. "That is something I can live with. There's nothing I can do."
Whatever the case, Bastardo's usage and effectiveness merit a close look.
When Brian Sanches began 2012 as a Lehigh Valley IronPig after appearing in 100 major-league games during the previous two seasons, there was disappointment.
"It was tough to get started mentally," Sanches said. "Not because I just didn't want to, but it's hard to explain. You're so used to being up here. But once I was able to mentally get back into it, I adjusted a few things mechanically that had fallen off."
Sanches was promoted Tuesday to replace David Herndon, who was placed on the disabled list late Monday with elbow inflammation. Herndon received a battery of tests Tuesday, the results of which were not immediately available.
In the meantime, the 33-year-old Sanches provides some experience in a shuffled bullpen. The Phillies could have opted for Jake Diekman or Phillippe Aumont, both on the 40-man roster, but chose Sanches. He had a 3.22 ERA in 14 innings at triple A.
"We talked about a few different guys, and we needed someone who could give us length," general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. said. "Diekman doesn't provide that."
Jim Thome remained unavailable for pinch-hitting duty Tuesday because of a bad back. The Phillies remained in a holding pattern. He took some swings in the cage and remains confident he can avoid the disabled list. . . . Do April showers bring May flowers? The Phillies haven't had a losing May since 2002 and have won at least 15 games in each of the last five Mays.