The Philadelphia Phillies have been dealing with bullpen issues since the 2009 season. The pen has been a problem in past years but in 2013 it became a true liability. There are many things this team needs to improve to get back to the postseason but the bull pen is the most urgent problem.
Unfortunately for the Phillies, their pen has been nothing but a rotating cycle of minor league players for the past two seasons. Jonathan Papelbon and Mike Adams were signed to improve the back end of the bullpen but it hasn’t happened that way. Papelbon has blown seven saves, which is the second highest in his career. The closer has also lost favor with the fans and his teammates by some of the comments he has made.
Adams has also failed to make much of an impact in 2013. The injury-prone setup man who was signed to be the eighth inning shutdown reliever, managed to play in just 28 games before landing on the 60-day DL after his start on June 19. When he played he was effective but for the Phillies; his absence just left more holes and more questions.
The Phillies tried to fill the void with any number of combinations of players: some minor league free agents and some minor league call-ups. But ultimately no one player really emerged as deserving of a role in the 2014 group. That is of course, until recently.
Jake Diekman was one of the guys called up around the time Adams hit the DL. He had pitched with the Phillies in 2012 but he was way too wild at times and walked too many batters. His stuff could be nasty and downright lethal, but that was only the case when he could command it. More often than not, he couldn’t.
But 2013 has been a different story.
Diekman has gotten the call to pitch in 38 games this year. He has an impressive 3.03 ERA out of the pen, and with a fastball that has touched 99, he has struck out 35 in just 32.2 innings. He has walked 14, but has also only given up one home run, making him the only member of the pen to yield less than two home runs over the course of the season.
At his best, Diekman is a lefty specialist. In 54 at-bats against lefties, Diekman has struck out 21 batters, hasn’t allowed a single extra base hit and is holding opponents to just a .167 batting average.
When it comes to the bullpen, the Phillies don’t really have the internal help some of their NL East opponents have and the free agent market isn’t much either. For that reason, if Diekman can continue to perform well in this role, he very much deserves the shot to start the season in the bullpen.
With the way he has been pitching, the Phillies could do much worse; believe me when I say, they already have. So when it comes to the 2014 bullpen, the Phillies could use a true lefty specialist and Diekman seems to be developing into that role quite nicely.
Marilee Gallagher is a baseball writer for RantSports.com. You can follow her on Twitter @MGallagher17 like her page on Facebook, or join her network on Google.