Young pitchers in the middle of Phillies' bullpen talk

Posted: February 10, 2011

Third in a series

 FOR ALL THE hand-wringing over the Phillies' failure to hit in key situations during an NLCS loss to the Giants, it's easy to forget that the momentum of the series shifted in Game 4, when Bruce Bochy's bullpen outpitched Charlie Manuel's in the final 4 1/3 innings of a 6-5 win.

With starters Joe Blanton and Madison Bumgarner both out of the game after five innings, the Phillies held a 4-3 lead in their bid to even the series at two games apiece. But they allowed the Giants to score go-ahead runs on two occasions, first with a two-run sixth inning against Chad Durbin, then with a walkoff sacrifice fly against Roy Oswalt in the ninth.

The Phillies hope they addressed any needed bullpen improvement through the improvement of their rotation. The philosophy is grounded in logic.

With four starters who routinely pitch into the seventh inning - do we really need to list their names? - the back-end trio of Brad Lidge, Ryan Madson and Jose Contreras should suffice.

In fact, the strength of the rotation could prompt the Phillies to carry six relievers instead of the customary seven.

"I hope it's a discussion," general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. said earlier this week. "That will mean that we're healthy going into the season. I can't say it's a definite. It's a debate we'll have."

Things could get interesting in the event of an injury, either to the aforementioned relievers or one of the front four starters. The Phillies have decided to sacrifice depth in their bullpen for depth in their rotation, at least in terms of their allocation of payroll space.

That's why it will be worth watching the performance of the slew of young relievers in camp this spring.

Lefty Antonio Bastardo has a huge upside but hasn't had a chance to pitch consistently at the big-league level. He appeared in 25 games last season, registering an impressive 26 strikeouts in 18 2/3 innings. But he also walked nine, hit two batters and allowed nine earned runs.

Veteran lefty J.C. Romero is the only experienced southpaw on the roster, and he was re-signed only after an agreement with free-agent Dennys Reyes fell through.

Amaro said righthanders Kyle Kendrick and Vance Worley will compete to fill the role that was previously held by Durbin, who was used primarily in multiple-innings situations but also could pitch in the late innings of tight games. He said that neither pitcher is more suited for a relief role than the other.

"Both of these guys can be multiple-innings guys," Amaro said.

The bulk of the Phillies' relief depth lies in a host of young players who have steadily developed over the last few years. Three of them - righties Justin DeFratus, Michael Schwimer and Michael Stutes - are participating in their first big-league spring training. They'll vie with pitchers like righty Scott Mathieson and lefty Mike Zagurski for places in the pecking order should injuries of ineffectiveness occur.

The Phillies clearly need the trio of Lidge, Contreras and Madson to be effective. They are hoping their improved rotation will lessen the burden on everybody else.

Philler

ESPN.com reported yesterday that the Phillies placed a phone call to the Rangers inquiring about infielder Michael Young, who has requested a trade, but that there were never serious discussions and that a deal between the two clubs is not expected to happen.

Tomorrow: Starting pitching.

For more Phillies coverage and opinion, read David Murphy's blog, High Cheese, at www.philly.com/HighCheese. Follow him on Twitter at

http://twitter.com/HighCheese.

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