The Phillies bullpen, at least, has shown improvement. The relievers pitched 11 innings and permitted one run in the three-game sweep of Atlanta. The bullpen leads the majors in ERA (1.17) since June 3. That represents a small sample size - there have been similar fleeting moments like these in the previous two years - but De Fratus is convinced this is no fluke.
The unit's strikeout-to-walk ratio is tops during that span by a wide margin. Closer Jonathan Papelbon has avoided trouble for much of the season. Mario Hollands, 25, has not allowed a run in his last 14 games. Antonio Bastardo, 28, has fired nine straight innings without a walk. Jake Diekman, 27, is still prone to lapses but ranks among the league's leaders in strikeouts. Ken Giles, 23, has closer potential.
"It's been a fun bullpen to be a part of for the last few weeks," De Fratus said. "I don't see any reason for it to slow down. I feel like it's starting to happen, that bullpen that people wanted two years ago. We were supposed to be the guys to come up and help. We had all of this promise.
"Well now, I think we threw that out the door. We don't have to be anybody that we're not. Let's just go do our thing. We trusted the process. It happened two years later than we wanted it to. But we're here now."
De Fratus slotted into the setup role vacated by the injured Mike Adams. He has not permitted a run in 12 innings since his recall, showing a renewed confidence after six weeks at triple-A Lehigh Valley.
"Since he's been back," Cliff Lee said, "he's been pretty unbelievable."
De Fratus said his time in the minors prompted self reflection. He attributed his problems to overthrowing and found an arm slot that generated results.
"It's confidence because I am executing my plan," De Fratus said. "The six weeks I spent in triple A totally changed my perspective on who I am as a pitcher and what I need to do to succeed."
Cody Asche (strained left hamstring) was 6 for 10 in his first four minor-league rehab games with two homers and two doubles. He played once more Wednesday at triple-A Lehigh Valley and is expected to rejoin the Phillies in St. Louis on Thursday. . . . Ben Revere did not start for a second straight game because of a bruised left knee. He pinch-hit in the eighth and could start Thursday. . . . Righthander Jonathan Pettibone underwent shoulder surgery Tuesday. He could be ready to pitch by next spring.