Phils' team chemistry faces an early test

Antonio Bastardo is back. He angered some teammates by using a performance-enhancing drug.
Antonio Bastardo is back. He angered some teammates by using a performance-enhancing drug. (   RON CORTES / Staff)
Posted: February 15, 2014

CLEARWATER, Fla. - Clubhouse chemistry was one of the hot-button topics during the Phillies' long wait for the start of spring training after an abysmal 2013 season. Veteran pitchers Cole Hamels and Jonathan Papelbon weighed in on the issue during the offseason, essentially agreeing that the team's bond was fractured.

Hamels revisited the subject Wednesday by saying this season feels different already. Papelbon is likely to have his say on the matter at some point during these early days of spring training. A lot of people consider the entire subject to be eyewash, unworthy of conversation. They believe bad teams have no chemistry because everybody hates losing and good teams have great chemistry because it sure is fun to win.

There's some truth on both sides. The bad chemistry in the Phillies clubhouse last season wasn't a myth and it wasn't entirely created by losing. Winning would have covered up some of the problems, but not all of them.

Perhaps the most real issue of them all occurred in early August, when the stunning news surfaced that reliever Antonio Bastardo had been suspended for 50 games as part of the Biogenesis investigation that focused mostly on New York Yankees star Alex Rodriguez.

The news wasn't stunning because someone in the Phillies clubhouse was being suspended as part of baseball's drug policy. By now, the players should be used to that. It happened to infielder Freddy Galvis two years ago and catcher Carlos Ruiz last season. A look around the clubhouse before Thursday's first official workout found four players - Galvis, Ruiz, Kevin Frandsen, and Zach Collier - who have served drug suspensions. The number will increase to five when outfielder Marlon Byrd arrives.

Bastardo's suspension, however, was a little different because he openly admitted he knew what he was using and doing and his name had not been publicly mentioned in the Biogenesis investigation until the very moment he was suspended. The other difference was how much Bastardo's suspension angered some of his teammates, with fellow reliever Justin De Fratus among the most outspoken.

"I am surprised," De Fratus said at the time. "I didn't think he was that kind of guy. I am disappointed. I'm disappointed in everybody, but they got what they deserved. I don't care if it takes the team apart if it cleans the game up. That's what I care most about.

"I know I haven't been around very long, but as a guy who is trying to stick, I think it's more important for us that the game is clean, because we're trying to stay around. If I'm going up against Player X, who is cheating, it makes my job even harder. It's unfortunate and it's terrible. I know I'm tired of it."

Every word by De Fratus was understandable. You spend a season on a big-league roster and you get a half-million dollars. You stick around long enough, you reach salary arbitration. Bastardo, 28, has reached that stage of his career and is making $2 million this season, a $600,000 raise after letting his team down a year ago.

You have to wonder what kind of message that sends. If the players and owners really want harsher penalties, then no player who is suspended for violating the drug policy should be able to receive a raise the following year.

De Fratus, who has less of a chance of making the team than Bastardo, has not carried his anger into the new season, although he still carries a torch to clean up the game.

"I know he's sorry," De Fratus said. "Everybody knows he's sorry. Whether he's sorry he got caught or he's sorry he did it, that doesn't matter. The fact of the matter is he's a good person. Everybody makes mistakes and we don't need to revisit it. It is what it is and I'm glad to have him back, because the guy gets outs."

Though De Fratus has forgiven his teammate, he did not forget his own words during last season. He said he spent this offseason at union meetings discussing baseball's drug policy and how it can be improved.

"I wasn't happy, but it wasn't just about Antonio," De Fratus said. "I think he's a great person, but I was more angry at the fact that guys still think they can get away with it. I don't think when they're doing it, they think about how it's going to affect the person in the locker next to them or that kind of stuff."

That part still seems lost on Bastardo, who doesn't understand why a fellow pitcher would be upset with him.

"I don't know why some players are thinking about that," Bastardo said. "Why do they compete with me? You have to compete with the hitters. You have to get the hitters out. If you do your job, you make the guys who are making decisions think about you. That's it."

Bastardo doesn't understand that if he is throwing harder or recovering faster, it gives him an advantage over the other pitchers, and that's a big deal when you play a game that can set you up for life financially at a very young age.

That's the kind of thing that can cause clubhouse friction.

Bastardo said he was sorry and never will do it again. De Fratus said he's going to keep working with the union to put harsher testing and penalties in place. Together, they'll strive for better clubhouse chemistry with the Phillies in 2014.


bbrookover@phillynews.com

@brookob

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