MINNEAPOLIS — Weeks before the Phillies gathered in Florida for spring training, there was one reason for Charlie Manuel to be excited. Sure, there were others. But one stuck out.
"I think that you can see our bullpen really blossom with who we have," Manuel said Jan. 28.
Here we are, 65 games into the season, and the Phillies' bullpen ERA of 4.48 ranks 28th in baseball.
"I've been surprised because I thought some of our pitchers would be further along," Manuel said. "That doesn't mean they can't pitch. They need more experience and work."
The Phillies signed Mike Adams to pitch the eighth. He looks broken. They added Chad Durbin for $1.1 million. He was released before June. They hoped to sprinkle a few young arms to complement Jonathan Papelbon, the richest closer in baseball.
So what happened?
Phillippe Aumont was conquered by the same demons that have followed his career. He could not command the ball in tight spots. He was sent to triple-A, where he complained about different voices from the organization telling him different things, and walked 12 batters in his first 4 2/3 innings.
Aumont, 24, is the one who most disappoints Manuel.
"Some of them are still short on experience," Manuel said. "You'll have some growing pains on those guys until they are comfortable. I thought Aumont would be farther along. He has big-time talent. The experience definitely counts."
Jeremy Horst is 27 and pitched to a 1.15 ERA in 31 1/3 innings a season ago. This year, he is the reliever used second most often by Manuel and possesses a 5.55 ERA.
Horst pitched into bad luck early in the season. That has not been the case of late.
"I think that we have to use him, and also I want to," Manuel said. "He’s very capable of doing the job for you. Sometimes it's a matter of circumstances that he’s got where he's at. Sometimes staying with him helps, too. He kind of showed us last year what he could do."
Then there is Antonio Bastardo, whose strikeouts are down and walks are up. The 27-year-old is not nearly as dominant vs. lefthanded hitters as he was during the previous two seasons.
Jake Diekman, another lefty, has walked 24 batters in 30 innings at triple A. He has a 5.70 ERA. His splits — .885 OPS vs. righties, .461 OPS vs. lefties — suggest Diekman is best served being a lefty specialist. Only two of his 24 walks have been to lefties. He is 26 years old.
Justin De Fratus and Mike Stutes have succeeded with limited chances. De Fratus, 25, pitched an electric seventh inning Tuesday and needed just 12 pitches for three outs. Righthanded hitters are 8 for 56 against De Fratus in his career, for a .392 OPS.
Stutes, 26, is still sharpening his slider, which is an important pitch considering he throws only two. His last outing in Milwaukee was shaky.
Add it all together and the blame can be shared. It is just one more component gone awry in the seasons' first 65 games.
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