Phillies 'pen continues to leak

Posted: April 10, 2014

AT SOME POINT this season, you'll hear somebody talk about the energy, or attitude, or want-to that the Phillies appear to be lacking. When that happens, remind them of yesterday, when the Brewers took the field for batting practice around 2:30 p.m. and then never left.

See, there wasn't much energy percolating in the ballpark by the end of a home-opening 10-4 loss, not because the Phillies lacked the requisite amount of dirt and/or pine tar on their uniforms, but because they watched a two-run deficit transform into a six-run deficit, an activity that tends to have a deflationary effect on even the most robust of psyches.

See, baseball is a pretty simple game, and that can be a maddening thing, because all of us have a little control freak inside of us.

When we encounter a quagmire, we want to believe that it could have been avoided, because we want to believe that we'll have what it takes to avoid it the next time around.

Yesterday, these things dominated the postgame dialogue between reporters and their subjects. Ben Revere misplayed a ball in centerfield in the seventh inning that led to a run. He was unable to make a diving third out earlier in the game on a run-scoring single. The Phillies committed two errors that led to two unearned runs in the Brewers' four-run third inning, one a misplayed bunt by Kyle Kendrick, the other a one-hopped-but-catchable throw by Cody Asche after a diving play. These are comforting things to focus on, because they offer the illusion of control. Execution, effort, energy: all are easier to improve than talent.

Nevertheless, apart from the Revere error, all of the aforementioned "fixables" had already transpired by the time Jimmy Rollins knocked an RBI single through the left side of the infield to cut the Phillies' deficit to 6-4 in the sixth inning. After the game, momentum was alleged to have swung all the way back in the second inning, when Ryan Braun made a diving catch that saved a couple of runs. But the Phillies did not look like a team on the wrong side of a steamroller. They forced Kyle Lohse from the game after five innings, drawing five walks and tallying seven hits. A 6-1 deficit became a 6-2 deficit became a 6-3 deficit became a 6-4 deficit with three trips to the plate remaining.

It was, by most reasonable judgments, a winnable game. But it needed to stay winnable, and that's an objective the Phillies' bullpen routinely struggled to fulfill last season.

Yesterday, it was more of the same, as a two-thirds-empty stadium cheered mockingly when the top of the ninth mercifully gave way to the bottom. They mocked, and they cheered, because the Brewers had spent the previous two innings Happy Gilmoring a variety of Brad Lincoln pitches off of Citizens Bank Park's leftfield wall as they rendered obsolete any thoughts of a comeback. These were righthanded hitters, mind you. Carlos Gomez, Braun, Jonathan Lucroy, Mark Reynolds. Good righthanded hitters, sure, but righthanded hitters that Lincoln was acquired to retire - because Lincoln is righthanded and the lone patch that the Phillies decided to apply to their bonfire of a bullpen from a year ago.

Point is, one can envision a scenario in which the back of the Phillies' bullpen proves not to be a liability. But Jonathan Papelbon, Antonio Bastardo and Jake Diekman are 3/7ths of the bullpen. If each appears in 60 games, that's 180 appearances.

Phillies relievers logged 466 appearances last season. Somebody has to make the other 266 appearances. Somebody has to prevent one and two-run deficits from becoming five and six-run deficits. Somebody has to pitch in tie games in the bottom of the sixth when the starter has been pinch-hit for in the top of the frame.

Lincoln was supposed to be that guy, but he began yesterday having faced just two batters on the season, and ended it having allowed six of 12 to reach base. It did not appear to be a managerial confidence builder.

Ryne Sandberg said he was pleased with what he saw from B.J. Rosenberg, who ended up with an unearned run due to the Revere error (which, it should be noted, occurred at the tail end of a fly ball that traveled 400 feet in the air). The 28-year-old righty entered the season with a 5.44 ERA in 44 career appearances, but the Phillies seem convinced that he has much more to offer. After Rosenberg came rookie lefty Mario Hollands and then Lincoln, who did not build himself any capital yesterday. Jeff Manship could get a look in a front-of-the-bullpen role if he does not join the rotation on Saturday. Papelbon, Bastardo and Diekman are your seventh/eighth/ninth inning tie-game-or-slim-lead guys.

Yesterday, Sandberg included Justin De Fratus, who curiously has appeared in just one game this season, in that group.

None of this is to say that Sandberg is wrong when he downplays his concern about the bullpen. De Fratus has plenty of potential, and he could be joined by veteran setup man Mike Adams before the end of the month. The emergence of either one - Adams, who is trying to return from shoulder surgery, pitched a scoreless inning yesterday at Class A Clearwater - would work wonders for the vitality of the unit. But seven games into the season, the bullpen has blown two saves, has allowed four of eight inherited runners to score, and has walked 12 while striking out 16. And after watching days like yesterday unfold for 2 consecutive years, one can forgive the fan base if it is hesitant to offer the benefit of its doubt.

On Twitter: @ByDavidMurphy


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