WASHINGTON When a team has a group of starting pitchers like the Phillies, its easy for the guys that follow them out of the bullpen to get lost in the shuffle. But maybe, thanks to the strength of the starting corps, the Phillies pen has come to be the teams secret weapon.
Certainly the statistics bear out the prowess of the pen. The relievers have posted the fourth-best ERA in the league (3.30) and have saved 37 games out of 40 chances with just one blown save in the ninth inning. Granted, the relievers are last in the league in innings pitched, but thats a good thing.
Come playoff time, where late-inning pitching is tantamount to success, the Phillies relievers should be relatively fresh.
We will never know how much the rest has helped our bullpen, manager Charlie Manuel said. We really havent been pressed. We have at times, but not really that much. Even when closer Ryan Madson was hurt we always had someone down there who was fresh and thats really big. Thats what our starting pitching has done for us.
Though Antonio Bastardo is the only lefty in the pen, Manuel says his relievers have the ability to matchup against right-handers, and can go batter to batter in the ninth inning if needed. Perhaps most importantly, is the Phillies mix of veterans like Madson and Brad Lidge along with youthfulrookie pitchers like Michael Stutes and Bastardo.
The young guys keep the old, veteran players who are settling in and know they are good, they push them, Manuel said. It keeps the energy and the hustle up. It plays a big role.
It shows a lot about the young pitchers. Not only are they getting experience, but they also get a winning attitude by going into the fire in big moments of the game.
Meanwhile, the reliever that has stood out the most this season is Bastardo. The 25-year-old lefty has closed games, notching eight saves, set-up a few in the eighth for Madson and has lined up against lefties in key spots, too. Actually, everything Manuel has asked from Bastardo, he has delivered.
The 1.35 ERA and 10.2 strikeouts per nine innings stands out, but so too does the fact that Bastardo has allowed just two of 29 inherited runners to score this year.
Bastardo, from Day One, has been practically perfect, Manuel said. Hes had a tremendous year, hes had a very, very solid year. For me, Bastardo has been the biggest surprise on our team. I think sometimes we dont realize the big situations or the big games hes pitched in. Hes just been that good.
Though Bastardo has pitched in the big leagues for parts of three seasons and has served a stint as the Phillies closer, the lefty has seemingly snuck up on teams and flown beneath the radar. Perhaps a more veteran pitcher or one with a more well-known name would have received all-star consideration. At the very least, a pitcher with Bastardos stats could garner some postseason awards votes.
As it is now, Bastardo just might be the most underrated pitcher in the big leagues, but thats OK with Manuel.
You can pitch in the back end of the bullpen for three or four years before teams catch on, Manuel said. There might be some times when you give up some runs, but at the same time those first few years he can get away a lot because teams wont see him too much.
Of course, it all starts with Madson. In his first extended shot at closing out games, Madson has saved 23 out of 24 games with a 2.06 ERA. Since the all-star break, Madson has allowed three runs. Headed into his first off-season of free agency, Madson could not have picked a better year to have a strong season.
No big deal
At 80-42, the Phillies are on pace to 106 games. However, if the team plays just .500 ball the rest of the way, it will end up with 100 wins. Only two teams in franchise history have won 100-plus games, the 1976 and 1977 clubs won 101 games each.
Still, Manuel isnt focused on breaking any records.
Its remarkable, but I dont look at it that way. We come to play and we play to win, he said. Thats our attitude. We dont get too high and we dont get too low we dont celebrate early and things like that. We dont get caught up in what people say. We just keep playing and finish out the season.
Hamels missed his turn on Friday because of inflammation in his left shoulder. Pitching coach Rich Dubee said Saturdays session will be an opportunity for Hamels to get back on the mound and test the shoulder before throwing his typical, between-start bullpen session early next week.
Dubee says its likely Hamels will rejoin the rotation late next week.
Dubee also said reliever Jose Contreras, who has been on the disabled list since June 20 because of a strained right forearm, will throw a bullpen session on Saturday. The Phillies have no timetable for Contreras' return, but hope to have him back for the playoffs.
E-mail John R. Finger at email@example.com.