Tuesday, September 23, 2014
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Three winners in Romero's departure

SEATTLE -- Just about everyone around the Phillies knew a decision on J.C. Romero would be forced sometime this season. Charlie Manuel had long lost faith in a pitcher who won two games in the 2008 World Series, and whether you think he was misused or not, the fact remains he was not effective.

Three winners in Romero's departure

David Herndon could be the big winner in J.C. Romero´s demotion. (H. Rumph Jr/AP)
David Herndon could be the big winner in J.C. Romero's demotion. (H. Rumph Jr/AP)

SEATTLE -- Just about everyone around the Phillies knew a decision on J.C. Romero would be forced sometime this season. Charlie Manuel had long lost faith in a pitcher who won two games in the 2008 World Series, and whether you think he was misused or not, the fact remains he was not effective.

The walks will be remembered as Romero's downfall -- and they came against both lefties and righties. Since 2008, Romero has walked 54 batters and struck out 50. Those are cringe-worthy numbers for a reliever. The 35-year-old lefthander was as quirky as they come, and there were plenty of reasons given for the lack of control.

So now he's gone, and probably for good. The Phillies have 10 days to do something with his $1.35 million contract, which has approximately $800,000 remaining this season. The Phillies will be saddled with those payments so long as another team does not claim him off waivers, which seems unlikely. They could be off the hook for the prorated league minimum if another team signs him upon his outright release.

The Phillies, obviously, did not have to make this move right now. It will go down as a referendum for a young bullpen, which now contains three members 25 or younger and will add a 26-year-old (Kyle Kendrick) or a 23-year-old (Vance Worley), depending on which is not the fifth starter.

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Who is a better hitter right now: Cliff Lee or Ben Francisco?
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Francisco

The roster move has some interesting ramifications. Here are three possible winners after the move, and a few may not be so obvious:

1. David Herndon. This one is obvious. Herndon had options remaining and the Phillies had been fine sending him back and forth from Philadelphia to Allentown before.

But since his second recall, Herndon has pitched 10 scoreless innings (one unearned run allowed). He has struck out seven and walked none. Opponents are hitting .194 off him with no extra-base hits.

He's been much better and provides the Phillies with flexibility. The 25-year-old can throw long relief or come into a situation that calls for a ground ball. Four of his six appearances since the recall have come in either a tie or a one-run game.

Herndon has been throwing a third pitch, his change-up, with more frequency. He has renewed confidence in his sinker, the pitch that kept him in the big leagues for an entire season. And the slider is still developing.

So for now, Herndon is a full-fledged member of the bullpen again. But that could change if the Phillies decide they need someone like...

2. Mike Zagurski. The Phillies have preferred to carry two lefties ever since the middle of the 2008 season, when Romero and Scott Eyre formed a dynamic tandem. Zagurski has been up and down for the past two seasons, hardly afforded a chance to become a regular member of the bullpen.

Of course, most of that is on Zagurski. In an insignificant 10 1/3 major-league innings since 2007, Zagurski has faced 51 batters and allowed 22 of them to reach base (a .431 OBP). During that same period, his triple-A numbers are appealing. (He has a 12.76 K/9 rate in 72 2/3 innings.)

Zagurski is more than just a pitcher to face lefties; he can provide length when needed and has fared well against both lefties and righties at triple A.

The question is whether the Phillies actually think they need a second lefty. By designating Romero, they have basically said, "No." Romero held lefthanded batters to a .530 OPS in 2011 and a .600 OPS in 2010. He has not been terrible against lefties.

This does not contradict the Phillies' usage of lefties under Rich Dubee in the past. Even when Eyre was on top of his game, he was not facing only lefties. In fact, he barely faced more lefties (50.8% of PA) than righties:

2008 -- 53 PA: 25 LHB / 28 RHB
2009 -- 128 PA: 67 LHB / 61 RHB
TOTAL -- 181 PA: 92 LHB / 89 RHB

What it could come down to is Dubee's philosophy against a LOOGY (Lefty One-Out GuY). In the spring, the pitching coach constantly said he would not carry a lefthander only for the sake of carrying a guy who throws with his left arm.

It took 70 games for him to apply that principle. And it could turn out to be true for the rest of the season if the Phillies decide the bullpen can go short in favor of another bench player like...

3. John Mayberry Jr. Both Charlie Manuel and Rich Dubee have said they could envision a time when the pitching staff could be limited to 11 members. Members of the front office have insinuated the same thing.

If Worley slides into the rotation, pushing Kendrick to the bullpen, the Phillies all of a sudden would have a great deal of length in the bullpen. The concern of going from 12 to 11 pitchers is getting caught in a situation where you easily run out of arms. But Kendrick, Herndon and Danys Baez have all shown they are capable of pitching multiple innings. In reality, the Phillies probably need only two of those three pitchers.

Remember that four-games-in-48-hours swing we kept talking about? The Phillies needed to use their bullpen in just seven of the 37 innings played against Florida. That is simply incredible.

Going with a shorter bullpen would free up a roster spot for another bat like Mayberry's. The 27-year-old has not exactly gone to triple A and torn up the International League. In 51 PA, he has a .700 OPS and has struck out 20 percent of the time.

Of course, going to 11 pitchers could also free up a spot for a righthanded bat added from outside the organization.

***

Interested to see how Charlie Manuel handles the designated hitter this weekend. Ross Gload would seem to be the logical choice for the first two games, both against righthanded pitchers.

But those two righthanded pitchers happen to be Michael Pineda and Felix Hernandez. Against the rookie Pineda, lefties are hitting slightly better (.228/.288/.342) than righties (.188/.251/.312), so we could see Gload tonight.

Hernandez, the reigning American League Cy Young winner, is better against lefties (.209/.275/.312) than righties (.260/.318/.376). That would suggest a chance for Ben Francisco.

Then again, we do not know if Gload is able to even take four at-bats in one game. And considering Raul Ibanez is the worst defensive left fielder in baseball, as rated by UZR and Dewan Plus/Minus, maybe it's best he serves as the designated hitter in spacey Safeco Field.

***

Big homecoming weekend for a bunch of Phillies people:

-- Kyle Kendrick grew up in Mount Vernon, Wash., which is about 60 miles north of Seattle.

-- Michael Stutes is from Lake Oswego, Ore., about a three-hour drive south of Seattle. He'll have a huge group of friends and family at Safeco all weekend.

-- Raul Ibanez spent 10 seasons with Seattle -- broken up by three years in Kansas City -- before signing a three-year deal with the Phillies in 2009.

-- Cliff Lee started 13 games for the Mariners in 2010. (Man, remember that time the Phillies traded him to Seattle?) He lived in Jamie Moyer's Seattle-area house for half the season.

-- Benny Looper, an assistant general manager, is the team's front office representative on the trip. He spent 22 years working in baseball operations for the Mariners and his son, Aaron, pitched here.

-- Both Pat Gillick and Charley Kerfeld reside in the Seattle area. They could be here, too.


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