Papelbon believes Phillies will have Top 5 bullpen

Papelbon believes Phillies will have Top 5 bullpen

Murphy and Moyer recap Phillies' win over Astros

March 8, 2014, 1:00 pm
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Jonathan Papelbon, seen here during Phillies camp, had 29 saves and a 2.92 ERA in 61 appearances last season. (AP)

CLEARWATER, Fla. – Jonathan Papelbon has high expectations for the Phillies’ bullpen in 2014.

How high?

“I will be very, very surprised if this is not a much better bullpen this year,” he said one recent day at Phillies camp.

Papelbon went a step further.

“I will be surprised if we’re not a top five bullpen in all of baseball. There’s way too much talent here. All we were waiting on was the experience and now these guys have it.

“The bumps in the road are out of the way now. No more learning curve, in my opinion.”

Time to deliver?

“Yeah,” Papelbon said.

Phillies relievers have a lot of ground to make up if they are to be a top five bullpen this year. They had the fourth-worst (4.13) bullpen ERA in the majors in 2013 and the team had its first losing record since 2002. The top five bullpens in 2013: Atlanta 2.46; Kansas City 2.55; Pittsburgh 2.85; Texas 2.89; Milwaukee 3.19.

Papelbon, entering his third year as Phillies closer, will need to be better in 2014. His strikeout rate (8.3 per nine innings) and saves percentage (81 percent) were both career lows last year, and his fastball velocity tumbled into the low 90s. He believes improved health – he quietly battled a hip problem in 2013 – will rev up the life on his fastball and his first two spring outings were promising as he got easy outs and showed good pop.

The bridge to Papelbon will include Antonio Bastardo, Jake Diekman, B.J. Rosenberg, Justin De Fratus, Brad Lincoln and Mike Adams when he is fully recovered from shoulder surgery.

Papelbon is very high on Diekman, Rosenberg and De Fratus. All three have shuttled between the majors and the minors the last couple of seasons. All three, particularly the hard-throwing lefty Diekman, opened eyes when they were given extended opportunities late last season.

“Their experiences as a whole are enough now that they can use it in an instant in a moment in the game,” Papelbon said. “They can go out there now with no fear and pound the strike zone. There’s no doubt. I see it.”

There are many keys to being an effective reliever. For Papelbon, having no fear stands above all. That can only be developed in the cauldron of the major leagues.

“The only way you get that is by going out and getting your ass kicked,” Papelbon said. “That’s how you learn. Relieving is a whole different animal. It’s a roller coaster, mentally and physically. It takes time to learn it.”

Papelbon came across as a mutinous teammate when he said, “I didn’t come here for this,” in the midst of all the losing last season.

But young relievers such as Diekman and Rosenberg have raved about the support they’ve gotten from Papelbon.

“He’s a great teammate,” Rosenberg said. “He’s helped me a lot.”

Papelbon learned the splitter from Curt Schilling in Boston. He taught it to Rosenberg last season. The pitch has been an important addition to Rosenberg’s arsenal, giving him something soft to offset his power pitches.

Diekman has mentioned the value of Papelbon’s counsel in the bullpen.

“I’ve done more of it this year than in the past,” Papelbon said. “In years past I’ve allowed losing to get in the way of my leadership and being positive. That won’t happen this year. The emphasis is on being positive and accountable.

“I really like the talent we have in this bullpen and I want to see us succeed. I think we can be one of the best bullpens in the game. We’re ready.

“Throw strikes and have no fear. That’s what makes a good bullpen. I think we have a bunch of guys who can do that.”