Manuel wants to make sure left side of Phillies bullpen is well-stocked

Antonio Bastardo delivers pitch in ninth inning against Pirates.
Antonio Bastardo delivers pitch in ninth inning against Pirates.
Posted: March 05, 2011

BRADENTON, Fla. - In Game 1 of the National League Championship Series last October, Phillies manager Charlie Manuel batted two of his prized lefthanded hitters, Chase Utley and Ryan Howard, third and fourth respectively.

Sure enough, with the Giants leading by a run going into the bottom of the eighth and Utley scheduled to lead off, San Francisco manager Bruce Bochy made his move. He brought lefty specialist Javier Lopez out of the bullpen. Lopez got Utley to ground out to second and struck out Howard, then handed the ball to Brian (The Beard) Wilson for a four-out save. The Giants won the opener and went on to upset the favored Phillies.

That's an illustration of how important having a good lefthander or two in the bullpen can be. And it's one reason why Antonio Bastardo's Grapefruit League debut attracted so much attention yesterday at McKechnie Field.

Coming into camp, Bastardo probably had the inside track to be the second lefthander in the bullpen behind veteran J.C. Romero. But he experienced early elbow discomfort, which kept him sidelined until yesterday.

He made up for lost time with a 1-2-3 ninth on a strikeout, a pop-up and another strikeout in yesterday's 7-4 exhibition win over the Pirates. Even more impressive, his first pitch to each batter was a strike.

"I was so happy to be out there and face hitters," Bastardo said. "I tried to do my best. I'm still working on my slider and missed high with it a couple times. My focus is just Strike 1 and Strike 2 and try to do my best."

"He threw good," manager Charlie Manuel said with a smile. "We'll see if we can get him out there again."

There are no rules governing the number of lefthanded pitchers a big league team must carry in its bullpen at any given time. The total tends to be governed more by the law of supply than demand.

When Jim Leyland managed the Pirates, he preferred to have three, allowing him to mix and match in the late innings no matter who the opposing team had coming up. Most teams these days find it difficult to come up with that many they have confidence in.

Manuel and pitching coach Rich Dubee have consistently said they'd rather have a righthander in the bullpen who has a chance to get people out than somebody who throws from the opposite side just to be able to say they have more than one.

In a perfect world, though, it's best to have at least two lefties available. Otherwise, the manager is going to be tempted to warm up the one he has every time the other team's big lefty bats are due up in the late innings of a close game. The danger is burning a pitcher out even if he doesn't get into the game.

Bastardo isn't the only lefty competing for a spot. Two of the other contenders, Mike Zagurski and Dan Meyer, also pitched yesterday.

Meyer pitched the sixth and gave up two runs on two hits and a walk. He also struck out two.

Zagurski pitched the eighth and gave up just an infield hit while striking out one.

Zagurski and Bastardo are on the roster, which gives them an edge over Meyer, Juan Perez and Ryan Feierabend, who are not.

By the way, Manuel batted Placido Polanco between Utley and Howard in the next two games of the NLCS. *

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