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 (3 1/3 innings) as Bastardo.
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 walked a batter 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. He's got to warm up, get him in the game and get him going."
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.
Nonetheless, Bastardo is being used less. The fewest batters he faced in a month last season was 34. He 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 future usage and effectiveness merit a close look.