SAN DIEGO -- The Phillies arrived in Phoenix last night with this bullpen: Ryan Madson, Antonio Bastardo, Michael Stutes, Danys Baez, David Herndon, Mike Zagurski and Kyle Kendrick.
There is a closer in that group; Madson, who says he is healthy but needed a few days off to manage "normal" soreness. He, just like Jose Contreras, has been used frequently in the last two weeks.
Because of that, Contreras is on the disabled list and going back to Philadelphia for an examination that could reveal a significant structural issue related to the strained flexor pronator tendon in his right elbow. Or the doctor could simply find that a few weeks of rest is necessary for the 39-year-old to feel better.
Either way, the bullpen is a mitigated mess right now. Bastardo has been very good, but he is not without past durability and consistency concerns. Baez, Herndon and Kendrick have had their bouts of ineffectiveness. Zagurski is a mop-up man right now. Stutes has never pitched in a major-league game.
There will be a few schools of thought as to how we arrived at this point.
1. Charlie Manuel and Rich Dubee habitually abused the back of the bullpen.
2. Already without Brad Lidge and J.C. Romero, the Phillies' decision-makers were left with few trusted options at the end of the bullpen and relied on a select few.
3. The offense's inability to, you know, score has created an unnecessary amount of close and tight games that put strain on the bullpen.
The true answer includes all the above.
At the beginning of spring training, Contreras was viewed as the likely seventh-inning man -- a role he thrived in. Then Lidge went down, Madson stayed where he was and the trickle-down effect had a great role in exposing most of the relievers the Phillies currently have.
Manuel is in the business of winning games (duh) and when he was faced with late decisions in close games, he turned to his trusted guys. And yes, there were times when he asked Baez, Herndon and Kendrick to pitch a crucial inning.
Look, I won't defend Manuel here. Having Contreras throw 81 pitches in the span of seven days is certainly uncalled for -- especially in April. General manager Ruben Amaro Jr. made no secret of what caused Contreras' soreness. He briefed the media in the manager's office, with Manuel seated nearby, and it was hard not to see some sort of tension.
"He had been pitching quite a bit," Amaro said.
Of course, Manuel could have shot back saying, "Well, this is what I've been handed." (He didn't.) The bullpen was a concern this offseason -- in fact Amaro once said it was his greatest concern. The Phillies upgraded by adding... no one. Contreras and Romero were re-signed. Chad Durbin, who would look quite helpful right about now, went unsigned until he latched on with Cleveland.
Now the Phillies do not have a setup man or a reliable seventh-inning option. They will ask Bastardo to continue his fantastic run to begin 2011 and it's quite possible he does. They will see first-hand if Stutes can ride his spring training success into a regular bullpen role. They must hope one of Baez or Herndon can straighten out.
Those things may happen. But if they don't, the starters could begin to see some sterling performances ruined.
Finally, a note on Roy Halladay's 130 pitches from the man himself:
"Everybody makes a big deal out of it, but 115 to 130 is an extra 15 pitches," Halladay said. "When you're talking about throwing - bullpen, long-toss, and in between innings, you're throwing 350 balls a day. An extra 15, if you're prepared, shouldn't affect it."
What does he mean by prepared?
"You're smart enough to cut back your work in between your next start. That's where a lot of guys don't look at that. They get stuck on throwing the same amount of pitches in the bullpen and long-tossing, and that's where it catches up with you. If you're smart about it, those in-between days are where you take care of yourself."
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