Phillies' bullpen shows it's less than striking

Phillies journeyman reliever Juan Perez hasn't been consistent.
Phillies journeyman reliever Juan Perez hasn't been consistent. (Associated Press)
Posted: July 18, 2011

NEW YORK - So there you were yesterday afternoon, seven-run lead, Juan Perez handed the ball to start the eighth inning. Juan Perez, author of the nine-pitch, three-strikeout inning against the Braves 10 days ago, the latest unexpected bullpen gift for Charlie Manuel's Phillies, in a position so advantageous you almost felt empathy for your former rivals and their fans.

Pass the remote, check out the women's soccer match, watch the British Open recap. This one was so, so over.

So there you were, minutes later, flipping back for a quick look, the Mets with the bases loaded and Juan Perez looking every bit like the bewildered 32-year-old journeyman already dispatched by five organizations, Manuel's arms flapping a little more animated as he moved toward the mound.

Fifteen pitches. Three strikes. A disaster in the making.

"If you're going to start a guy out with a breaking ball with a seven-run lead," Manuel would say later in the visiting manager's office at Citi Field, "you better be throwing them for strikes."

For much of the last month, Ruben Amaro Jr.'s proclamation that bullpen help was the top trade deadline priority has been puzzling. Sure the Phillies have lost some name arms along their franchise-best first half, but haven't Antonio Bastardo, Michael Stutes and Ryan Madson seamlessly filled those roles? Hasn't Kyle Kendrick, who allowed one run over seven innings of his spot start yesterday, quietly transformed from the guy most likely to be voted off the island to a valuable swing piece, and an experienced one at that?

For the fifth time in eight starts this season, Kendrick allowed the opponent just an earned run or less. Continuing the 2011 theme of gift horses, half their runs in the 8-5 victory over New York were driven in by 28-year-old utility man Michael Martinez, three via a right-center home run that even he couldn't believe traveled that far.

He also had a sacrifice fly in the seventh that pushed the lead to 5-0, and the Phillies used three walks and an error in the next inning to create the 8-1 cushion Perez stepped into.

By the time the Mets finished batting in the eighth, the Phillies had used Perez, Madson, and finally Bastardo, who struck out Justin Turner with the bases loaded to keep it at 8-4. In his second non-save stint since coming off the disabled list, Madson had trouble with location. So, too, did Bastardo, who allowed two extra-base hits in the ninth and saw his scoreless appearance streak stopped at 18 before Martinez made a dazzling backhanded play on Ronnie Paulino for the final out of his sixth save in six tries.

So stuff happens. So this was a blip in a season of otherwise stellar support. Bastardo's save was the Phillies' 26th in 29 tries this season and most of them have been under much more duress than yesterday's sloppy series finale. The earned run average of the 25-year-old lefty over 38 appearances is still barely a run (1.02).

So he didn't lose the gig yesterday. But this is already his longest big-league stint. And Perez? Well, when Manuel said later, "Some of them will do a job for you for awhile, and when that while runs out, that's when you find out they're probably not big leaguers," he was probably talking about ol' JP.

Stutes? He held up over 53 appearances and 76 minor-league innings last year. He sure seems like an ice man, mostly because he's so honest when assessing himself. "I doubt I'll have as many innings pitched as last year," he said in the clubhouse before yesterday's game. "I'm not even close. The main difference is when we hit September what I'm like . . . That's when I will be in unfamiliar territory."

And that's why names like Heath Bell and Mike Adams pop up more often than any hitters do when you Google the Phillies and trade deadline. The Phillies have used five guys to close this season, a sign of both depth and desperation. And that's not including Brad Lidge, who with Jose Contreras, remains on the disabled list. Lidge is creeping closer to activation after another rehab outing yesterday. Contreras said over the weekend he hopes to be ready by mid-August.

But in what roles? The Phillies have leaned on Stutes, Bastardo and Madson to finish off games and with great success. Is it prudent to believe that will continue? That Lidge or Contreras will recover enough to help?

Or was yesterday a hint, an indication, that Amaro's trade deadline priorities are more accurate than the current stat sheets suggest? Or that the current conversation about righthanded bats and such would imply?

"You have to pitch who you have," Manuel said after yesterday's victory. "And some of them have done a job. But until they've proven they can get a peak and keep it there and be consistent . . . "

His voice trailed off. Stutes and Bastardo have given him reason to hope for the best. But trust? That's months away.

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