Jonathan Papelbon, the stylin’ and profilin’ Ric Flair of the Phillies’ bullpen, called it “the rope-a-dope, tag team off the top rope.”
The rest of us can call it a glimpse at the future.
On a day when recently outstanding Cole Hamels was rather ordinary, the Phillies were able to beat the Seattle Mariners, 4-3, on Wednesday afternoon (see Instant Replay). The Phillies capitalized on some sloppy Seattle defense in scoring three unearned runs to take the lead in the fourth inning and Hamels pitched out of trouble to preserve the lead in the fifth.
That’s where the future came in.
With Hamels out of the game, the Phillies needed 12 outs from their bullpen and Jake Diekman, Ken Giles and Jonathan Papelbon provided them in emphatic fashion.
Diekman struck out four in two shutout innings.
Giles struck out three in one shutout inning.
Papelbon struck out two more to preserve the one-run victory with his 30th save of the season. He is the 10th pitcher to reach 30 saves eight times.
Papelbon disputed a reporter’s observation that the work of the bullpen might have been a glimpse at the future. He pointed out that the Phillies’ bullpen has been pretty solid for much of the season. He’s right, of course. After a rough first month or so, the bullpen has been one of this disappointing club’s bright spots. But with the season starting to fade and the Eagles pounding pads across the street, the focus is beginning to shift to the future and to what this team might look like in 2015.
The power-armed, lefty-righty tandem of Diekman and Giles is already a big part of this team, and it figures to be even more important next season.
There was some justice in seeing Hamels get a win on a day he was not on top of his game. So many times this season, he’s pitched well only to lose because of poor run support. But he doesn’t get this win if it isn’t for Diekman and Giles and those nine outs they rang up.
“It’s nice to know when you’re not able to go deep in the ballgame that guys are going to be able to get the job done,” Hamels said. “They’re great pitchers and they’re definitely developing into top caliber guys which is going to set up the bullpen for the future. You have to like what you see.
“When those guys come in it’s fun to see. They’re going to challenge the hitters and I think that’s a better philosophy than trying to trick them the whole time and hope you can locate that one pitch. They’re coming out firing and that’s fun to see. That’s the type of baseball from a starter’s view you want to see from a bullpen -- throwing 95-plus with no fear. That’s what you want. They don’t show fear, definitely not.”
Since arriving from Triple A in early June, Giles, 23, has pitched in 28 games. He has allowed just 20 hits and four earned runs (1.23) in 29 1/3 innings. He has 44 strikeouts and just six walks, an awesome ratio for a guy who battled control issues throughout the minors.
Giles’ last eight appearances have been scoreless.
Hamels compared Giles to Brad Lidge with one caveat: He throws harder than Lidge. In Lidge’s best years, his fastball topped out at about 96 mph. Giles can rev it up to 100 mph.
The big similarity between the two is the slider. Like Lidge, Giles has tremendously sharp downward bite on the pitch. Hitters are forced to protect for triple-digit heat. If they cheat a little and get out on their front side, they are dead if that slider comes.
Diekman, 27, is not as consistent with his slider, but there are times when it is quite good. He, too, can approach triple-digits with his fastball. He must throw that pitch for strikes to be effective, must get ahead in counts. On Wednesday he did.
Having a hard-throwing lefty-right combination gives manager Ryne Sandberg tremendous flexibility to play the matchup game in the later innings. One day, Giles may end up in the closer role, but as long as Papelbon is here, Giles is not being hurt pitching high-intensity innings in a setup role. Sometimes the toughest outs of game are in the seventh or eighth inning. Mariano Rivera got plenty of them in 1996 setting up for John Wetteland. Ditto for Ryan Madson in 2008. A backbreaking setup man can be a huge weapon for a bullpen and the Phils seem to have one in Giles.
Now if they can add some starting pitching and a bat or two…