SAN DIEGO — It was the eighth inning of a four-run Phillies lead Tuesday when Rich Dubee made his first phone call to the bullpen. Kyle Kendrick put two runners on base. Dubee instructed Antonio Bastardo and J.C. Ramirez to warm up.
That's J.C. Ramirez, a veteran of one major-league game and owner of a 6.53 ERA at triple-A Lehigh Valley.
Had Mike Adams not suffered three tears in his right shoulder, the eighth is his spot. Had Justin De Fratus not imploded in the 10th inning the previous night, the eighth might be his spot. Had Mike Stutes not succumbed to more shoulder problems, the eighth might be his spot.
Kendrick pitched through trouble making him the second consecutive Phillies starter to go eight innings. That will not happen every time. One night in the not-too-distant future, the 29th-ranked bullpen in baseball (4.66 ERA) will be asked to record more than three outs.
"I view it as an opportunity for the young kids," Phillies general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. said. "It's not ideal for us. But that’s how we have to view it."
The Phillies are straddling relevancy. A stronger bullpen would help their cause for contention. But given their position, Amaro will not seek an upgrade.
"We’ve talked to some teams about it being a need," Amaro said. "Of course trying to find that need is going to be very, very expensive. And from the conversations I’ve had so far, the asks have been… let's just say they're pretty strong. A little too strong for my liking. I'm not going to mortgage the future of our organization for a guy who might be able to help us in the seventh or eighth inning."
That is a prudent decision by the GM.
It could rub some, like Charlie Manuel, the wrong way. The 69-year-old manager is working with his job on the line. He spoke before and after Tuesday's victory about "needing pieces" in the bullpen.
"We're going to need more than Bastardo," Manuel said.
Those pieces will have to come from within, from the Ramirezes, Diekmans and Aumonts of the roster. Five of the current seven relievers — De Fratus, Ramirez, Diekman, Aumont and Joe Savery — have appeared in 138 career games combined.
Doesn't that sound like development — not contention — at the major-league level?
"Right now we don't have any solutions," Amaro said. "If we could find a solution to fill the hole or fill a need we'll try. It doesn't mean we're not going to try. I'll be on the lookout for it. But based on the conversations I've had with teams already about these particular players who might be in play — I'm not optimistic about that. A lot of people are looking for bullpen help and naturally demand is very high. But we'll keep at it."
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