ON MAY 28 against the Colorado Rockies, Antonio Bastardo walked four of the five batters he faced. He was booed off the mound. (The Phillies still won the game.)
Two years ago, on the day Ryan Howard returned from his Achilles' injury, Bastardo entered the eighth inning of a scoreless game against the Atlanta Braves. He walked in a run and then served up a back-breaking grand slam to Brian McCann.
Those are the moments most people are able to recall when they think of Bastardo's role in the bullpen in the last few years. But the reality is he's been one of the best relievers in baseball over that period.
In the last four seasons, only five major league relievers have held opponents to a lower batting average than Bastardo (.181) entering play yesterday. Those five relievers: Aroldis Chapman (.150), Koji Uehara (.155), Craig Kimbrel (.155), Kenley Jansen (.176) and Tyler Clippard (.179).
"He's very reliable out there," manager Ryne Sandberg said.
He is also a very attractive commodity the Phillies have to dangle to possible suitors in the next 8 days, before the July 31 nonwaiver trade deadline.
While the trade rumors are dominated with the likes of Cliff Lee, A.J. Burnett, and Jonathan Papelbon, Bastardo is much more likely to be on the move. Unlike many of his teammates, Bastardo does not have a hefty contract (he's on a 1-year, $2 million deal) and he doesn't have any no-trade protection to complicate matters.
And as a lefthanded reliever, he could surely help any number of contending teams.
Bastardo's .159 opponents batting average is the fourth-best in baseball among pitchers with at least 40 innings. His 10.92 strikeouts-per-nine innings ratio is 13th best. (The Phillies are the only team with two relievers in the top 15; Jake Diekman has 12.49 strikeouts-per-nine innings).
Bastardo also has been nearly as effective against righthanders (.208 opponents batting average) as lefthanders (.181) in his career.
"The other thing about him is he's very durable," Sandberg said. "He's resilient and he likes the ball - that's huge. We've had a couple times when we've been short [in the bullpen] and he's been the guy just because of the way he bounces back. And once again, he was quality."
So why would the Phillies want to trade Bastardo? They have two younger lefthanders in the 'pen in Diekman and Mario Hollands, who both also have been largely effective this season. Bastardo is also eligible to become a free agent after next season.
The Phillies could deal from a position of strength (lefthanded relief) to address an area of need (starting pitching, outfield, etc.). Despite a growing number of scouts coming to each Phillies game to get a look at him, Bastardo has managed to ignore even the thought of putting on a different uniform at some point in the next 9 days.
"I'm not that kind of person looking to see what's going on around the league and stuff. I'm not into that," Bastardo said. "When I come in here, I shut everything down. Everything is about baseball. That's it."
Bastardo went through a bout of wildness in the season's first 2 months, walking 20 batters in his first 26 games (25 2/3 innings). He's walked only four batters in 18 games (18 1/3 innings) since.
Bastardo has allowed an earned run in only one of his last 18 appearances (and two in his last 27). He has also struck out 22 of the 70 batters he's faced since the beginning of June.
Ruf in; Mayberry on DL
About an hour before the Phillies took batting practive, Ryne Sandberg was asked what kind of possible playing time Darin Ruf could get if he returned to the big leagues, with Domonic Brown, Ben Revere, Grady Sizmore and Marlon Byrd all getting regular playing time in three outfield spots.
Sandberg smiled at the hypothetical question, and said it would all take care of itself. Not long afterward, Ruf emerged from the home clubhouse and took batting practice with the Phillies for the first time in more than 7 weeks.
The Phillies placed John Mayberry Jr. on the 15-day disabled list with left wrist inflammation. Ruf was recalled from Triple A Lehigh Valley to take Mayberry's spot on the roster.
Ruf has been limited to 40 games this year - between both the minor leagues and major leagues - after suffering an oblique injury at the end of spring training and then a left wrist injury after running into the wall in an attempt to make a catch. The latter injury occurred only days after Ruf was optioned to the IronPigs in early June.
"It's been a mentally challenging year for me," said Ruf, who grounded out as a pinch-hitter last night. "That's been the toughest thing - to stay positive through the injuries. It's the first time that I've had to deal with injuries. Hopefully, it will be the last time I have to deal with injuries. Every time I have had a chance to return, I've felt good and stayed positive."
Ruf began playing games again on June 30. In his last three games at Lehigh Valley, Ruf was 6-for-12 with three doubles and four RBI.
Ruf hit .247 with 14 home runs and an .806 OPS in 73 games with the Phillies in 2013. He hit nine home runs last August.
Among major league players, only Miguel Cabrera and Alfonso Soriano, with 11 each, hit more home runs last August.