Mother Nature provided the Phillies with an extra day to heal the wounds of Monday night’s harrowing 9-6 loss to the Atlanta Braves. The second game of the series was rained out Tuesday night (see story). The two teams will return to action Wednesday night with Cliff Lee opposing Braves right-hander Julio Teheran.
Monday night’s loss illustrated the mercurial nature of baseball in general and bullpens in particular.
The Phillies got excellent work from their bullpen -- three wins and a 2.13 ERA -- in sweeping the Miami Marlins over the weekend, but Monday night was a different story. B.J. Rosenberg allowed home runs to the only three batters he faced and Jake Diekman, pressed into closer’s duty because Jonathan Papelbon needed a break after pitching three days in a row, had a tough time throwing strikes before Dan Uggla took him deep for a game-deciding grand slam.
After 13 games, the Phillies have the highest bullpen ERA in the National League at 5.53. Obviously, it needs to come down if this team is going to have any chance of succeeding. Some potential remedies: Well, first of all, the starters need to pitch deeper into games to prevent bullpen overexposure. Only twice in 13 games has a Phillies starting pitcher gone seven innings.
Another potential remedy could be warming in the bullpen. Mike Adams has been activated from the disabled list and will be ready to go Wednesday night.
The eighth inning was a nightmare in 2012. The Phillies blew 13 leads in that inning as their five-year run of NL East titles ended. Looking to fix the problem, the team signed Adams, one of the best eighth-inning men in baseball, to a two-year, $12 million deal before the 2013 season. Adams, however, struggled much of the first half and eventually gave in to shoulder surgery in July.
He’s back now, but at age 35 and coming off surgery, what will he be? His fastball is not what it was when he was on top of his game. He was throwing 88 to 90 mph in his minor-league rehab outings. His fastball sat at 90 recently, and he believes he can make that work if he locates and changes speeds. In that regard, Adams is similar to Papelbon. Neither throws as hard as he used to. Both must do more “pitching” -- in, out, up, down, change speeds -- to succeed.
It’s imperative that both Adams and Papelbon have success. The Phillies are paying the two men a total of $20 million this season. The team needs some return on that investment.
Sandberg didn’t sound all that sure if Adams could be successful throwing 88 to 90 mph when asked about the topic on Tuesday.
“I would say initially, if that’s what he’s throwing, but we’ll see,” the manager said. “He does have a lot of deception out there with all the body parts coming at you, and he has good secondary pitches. I think command will be big and mixing up the pitches will be big to start with for him. That will be important for him.”
Adams has plenty of experience pitching in late-game cauldrons, so Sandberg is not going to waste him in the middle innings. But Adams probably won’t jump into the eighth-inning role right away. Sandberg and pitching coach Bob McClure will evaluate his outings, and he’ll migrate to high-leverage situations when he’s ready.
“He becomes a late-inning right-hander, and then we have to see him out there and see how he does,” Sandberg said “We’ll use him one inning at a time, preferably. I would suggest we’d use him for a few outings and see how he bounces back and have him build from that.”
For now, Adams is the only new blood for this bullpen, but there could be some on the horizon.
Kenny Giles is lighting up radar guns, controlling his fastball and mowing down hitters at Double A Reading. In his first five games (six innings), Giles allowed one hit and two walks. He struck out 14.
Sandberg liked what he saw of Giles in spring training and suggested the right-hander was not far away. Nothing appears imminent, but Giles will get his shot in Philadelphia if he keeps getting outs (see story).
“Yeah, absolutely,” Sandberg said when asked whether he’d noticed what Giles has been doing. “He struck out three (Monday) night.”
Control has been a problem throughout Giles’ pro career, but he has shown improvement.
“It’s about commanding the baseball and control,” Sandberg said. “That’s what we saw in spring training -- the ability to work ahead on the hitters. From what we’ve heard, it’s been quality and he’s been on a good roll at Reading.”