Phillies Notebook: Phillies attempt to transition Martin to the bullpen

Posted: September 08, 2013

THE PHILLIES have seen enough out of Ethan Martin to believe he will be an important piece of next year's roster. That might sound strange, given the 23 earned runs, eight home runs and 21 walks he has allowed in 30 innings over seven starts. But as of yesterday, the Phillies are no longer handling Martin as a starter. During batting practice, pitching coach Rich Dubee informed reporters that the hard-throwing righthander would move to the bullpen, a place where many talent evaluators had long assumed he would end up.

Tyler Cloyd will start for the foreseeable future, but this move is all about transitioning Martin, 24, to the bullpen. The Phillies think he has the potential to set up for Jonathan Papelbon next season. Dubee said he was looking forward to using Martin in the eighth innings of tight games for the rest of September. A closer look at his numbers would show you why.

Martin has actually been quite dominant in the first couple of innings of his starts. In the first 25 pitches of his outings, opposing hitters are just 5-for-34 with no extra-base hits, two walks and 16 strikeouts. His first time through the order, he has allowed a slash line of just .200/.290/.327, with 23 strikeouts and six walks in 63 plate appearances. Both of those sets of numbers skyrocket as the game progresses. Opposing hitters have a .961 OPS on pitches 26 through 50, a 1.139 OPS on pitches 51 through 75, and a 1.372 OPS on pitches 76 through 100. On his second and third times through lineups, Martin has struck out 11, walked 15 and allowed six home runs.

"I'm not afraid to put him in the eighth inning right now," Dubee said. "Again, this is all trial-and-error. It will be interesting to see how he handles it. His stuff has played phenomenally well the first time through a lineup. And, again, I don't know if it's because of fatigue, I don't know if it's because he burns up too much energy, but his stuff shortens up the second and third time through. I do think this guy is a gem. He will play some big role on a pitching staff. It will be a nice, little change to take a different look at him."

As a reliever, he will have no second or third trips through the lineup. Martin's Achilles' heel as a starter was his inability to locate his offspeed pitches consistently. Roughly 64 percent of the 372 fastballs he has thrown have gone for strikes. On the other hand, he has thrown only 57 percent of his splitters, 55 percent of his sliders and 45 percent of his curveballs for strikes. To become an elite reliever, Martin would need to develop one of those pitches into a consistent out pitch. But the Phillies think he can pitch off his fastball enough to be an effective setup man.

They need one badly. Their rotation next season is full of holes after Cole Hamels and Cliff Lee. Newly signed Cuban righthander Miguel Alfredo Gonzalez is expected to fill one of the three vacancies, but the Phillies were concerned enough about the 26-year-old's arm that they landed him for only $12 million over 3 years after initially agreeing to a deal for a reported $50-plus million over 6 years. In addition to some concerns about the health of Gonzalez' elbow, scouts' opinions have been mixed on whether he profiles as a middle-of-the-rotation starter or a multiple-innings reliever. Although the Phillies have not ruled out Martin's rejoining the rotation, they have enough need in the bullpen to figure that is where he will spend most of his time next year.

Lefty Jake Diekman, who entered last night's game with a 3.09 ERA, 9.3 K/9, 3.9 BB/9 and 0.3 HR/9, will likely enter next season as the lefthanded yin to Martin's yang in the seventh and eighth innings. Suddenly, the rebuilding of an atrocious bullpen seems more manageable: Add two or three veteran arms via free agency, then allow the slew of as-yet disappointing internal candidates to fight for the final one or two spots.

Given the limited options for upgrading the lineup, the Phillies will need at least one of their pitching units to be a strength. The best chance for the bullpen to fulfill that charge is for Martin and Diekman to pitch as Dubee thinks they can. Yesterday, they took the next step in the finding-out process.

Phillers

Righthander Roy Halladay has been battling an illness. He is scheduled to make his next start Tuesday . . . Rich Dubee said Halladay jotted an encouraging note to Ethan Martin on a baseball card that showed the 10.64 ERA he posted for the Blue Jays as a 23-year-old in 2000.


On Twitter: @ByDavidMurphy

Blog: ph.ly/HighCheese

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