The Phillies begin spring training in Clearwater, Fla., on Thursday. Leading up to the first workout, we will take a daily look at the important issues and storylines of camp.
The Phillies this winter did not make any major additions to a bullpen that had the fourth-worst (4.13) ERA in the majors in 2013.
Much like they are with the lineup, Phillies officials are crossing their fingers that the existing group improves.
Ultimately, a bullpen’s effectiveness can only be measured during the regular season. But there will be plenty to keep an eye on this spring in Clearwater.
At the top of the list is closer Jonathan Papelbon. On good days, he has the temperament of an angry badger. What will his mood be like after management spent the winter trying to trade him? The Phils were even willing to eat a significant portion of the $26 million that Papelbon is guaranteed through 2015. There were no takers.
Papelbon’s fastball measured in the mid-90s during his time with Boston. Last season, it slipped into the low-90s and his strikeout rate (8.3 per nine innings) and saves percentage (81 percent) were both career lows.
Papelbon did quietly battle a sore hip at times in 2013. But general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. has opined that Papelbon’s drop in velocity was more a result of not having the adrenaline that comes with pitching in a pennant race.
Spring training won’t offer the definitive word on Papelbon, who turned 33 in November. Closers are notorious for lackluster performances during exhibition play, and many have trouble generating top velocity on their fastballs. That, they say, can only come with the adrenaline of a major-league setting.
But eyes will be on Papelbon -- his personality and his performance -- in this camp.
They will also be on Antonio Bastardo, Mike Adams and Jake Diekman.
Bastardo, a lefty, missed the final 50 games last season while serving a PED suspension for his dealings with the Biogenesis clinic in Miami.
Adams, last winter’s big addition to the bullpen, is trying to come back from a serious shoulder injury that required surgery last summer. The right-hander is throwing and says he feels “great.” He might not be ready for opening day, but hopes to be a go shortly after that. Adams was once one of the best setup men in baseball. Can he be effective again at age 35 with a surgically repaired shoulder? The Phillies hope so. They need the help and they’re paying him $7 million this season. Spring training will offer clues as to where Adams stands.
Diekman will be one of the most interesting relievers to watch. The side-arming lefty improved his strike-throwing late last season, and the velocity on his fastball (high-90s) swelled along with his confidence.
The Phillies need an eighth-inning man to emerge from the trio of Bastardo, Adams and Diekman.
There are plenty of other candidates for jobs in the bullpen. They include holdovers B.J. Rosenberg, Justin DeFratus, Mike Stutes, Jeremy Horst, Joe Savery and Luis Garcia. Phillippe Aumont, still a mesmerizing talent, is back, but his inability to throw consistent strikes has been a problem. New pitching coach Bob McClure is the latest to take a stab at unlocking Aumont’s great potential.
Two newcomers -- right-handers Brad Lincoln and Chad Gaudin -- have an excellent chance of earning spots in the 'pen. Lincoln, a former first-round pick of the Pirates, joined the club in a trade from Toronto. Gaudin is in camp on a minor-league contract. Both can pitch multiple innings, which is valuable.
Gaudin, who turns 31 on March 24, went to camp on a minor-league contract with the San Francisco Giants last season and ended up being an important member of that club. He pitched in 30 games, 12 of them starts, and went 5-2 with a 3.06 ERA. He was 5-1 with a 3.53 ERA in his 12 starts. Gaudin’s ability to start will be valuable on a club that is thin in the rotation.
“He has a very good chance to make the team,” Amaro said. “A lot depends on how he pitches. But he’s got a very good chance.”
Others who will get looks include non-roster invites Shawn Camp and Cesar Jimenez and right-hander Kevin Munson, a Rule 5 pick from Arizona. Hard-throwing Kenny Giles, he of the triple-digit fastball, will also be in camp, but he needs time to work on his control in the minor leagues.
Still to be determined is whether the Phillies will bring veteran Ryan Madson in for a look-see. He missed the last two seasons with an elbow injury and last week auditioned for teams, including the Phillies.