LOS ANGELES - The Phillies started 2014 with three righthanded relievers to complement closer Jonathan Papelbon, and all three became IronPigs in less than a month. B.J. Rosenberg joined Brad Lincoln and Justin De Fratus at triple-A Lehigh Valley on Wednesday when he was optioned to clear space for Cole Hamels' return.
Ryne Sandberg's current stable of righthanded middle relievers consists of Mike Adams, 35 and less than nine months removed from major shoulder surgery; Jeff Manship, who owns a career 6.45 ERA; and Shawn Camp, a 38-year-old soft tosser yet to pitch this season. Both Manship and Camp signed minor-league deals last winter.
The Phillies entered Wednesday with a 5.37 ERA from their bullpen; only Cincinnati's 5.77 was worse among major-league teams. Sandberg said the message sent to the demoted pitchers was clear.
"Some other guys have stepped up and done a nice job," Sandberg said. "We're keeping an eye on everybody. It's a long season. That's the message. We have some other guys who are doing well."
But there are limitations. Adams, Sandberg said, must still be "eased into" a regular role. The Phillies are leery of using him on back-to-back nights. Adams threw seven pitches in a scoreless eighth inning Tuesday. Just one was a fastball, at 92 m.p.h.
Manship has spent much of his big-league career as a mop-up man or starter. The Phillies like his ability to throw strikes, but his late-inning experience is minuscule. He is not a strikeout pitcher. Camp, Sandberg said, is a long man "who could save some arms" with multiple innings.
Those realities could force lefties Antonio Bastardo, Jake Diekman, and Mario Hollands into tight situations against righthanded batters. Sandberg said he was confident using them in those scenarios.
It is not ideal.
Rosenberg was rocked in his three most recent outings. He faced 15 batters and 10 of them reached base. Sandberg said he will go to the minors with orders to employ a cutter in addition to his four-seam fastball and breaking pitches.
"He hasn't had the confidence," Sandberg said. "Hopefully he'll add some quality there and get some success and some confidence."
Third baseman Cody Asche did not start for the third straight game, and Sandberg said he opted for Freddy Galvis because of his defensive capabilities. It was the sixth time in 11 games that Asche did not start. Sandberg appears to have settled on a platoon.
Sandberg said Monday he has "a lot of faith in Asche." His words were tempered Wednesday. The manager said he spoke to Asche, 23, who is 6 for his last 42 with one extra-base hit.
"I just told him to be ready to go in any capacity," Sandberg said. "The biggest change in the last three games is quality pitching and good defense behind. Freddy has been a part of that combination for the last three games."
Strange but true: The Phillies started 9-11, 10-10, or 11-9 in 11 of the last 12 seasons. Their 10-10 mark in 2014 bested 9-11 starts in both 2012 and 2013. ... The Phillies will face all righthanded starters in the final four games of their West Coast trip.