The Philadelphia Phillies‘ bullpen is off to a shaky start, but is starting to find consistency. Jonathan Papelbon is paid to be the trusty anchor at the backend of the clubs’ bullpen, but he has again struggled early on. With several young, untested arms, there is sure to be a learning curve and a few expected bumps in the road.
The Phillies have entered the ninth inning with at least a share of the lead in all five games, but are just 3-2 on the young season. A blown save by Papelbon and a questionable decision by manager Ryne Sandberg cost the Phillies two early games, and they need to build confidence in their team to close out games.
Papelbon has made three appearances thus far, and it has been hit or miss. The Phillies put the ball in his hands to close out the final game against the Texas Rangers, and he gave up three runs on four hits and two walks (including the walk off walk) and only managed to get one out. The blown save is sandwiched between two 1-2-3 outings where he looked very good, and makes you wonder what can be expected of him throughout the season.
Sandberg turned to rookie left-hander Mario Hollands in a tie ballgame in the bottom of the ninth against a dangerous top of the Rangers’ lineup. It was Hollands first ever major league appearance and his nerves showed. He didn’t look comfortable and struggled to find the strike zone, and they lost the game in the ninth.
While it was nice to see Sandberg show his confidence in the young lefty, it wasn’t ideal to throw him into the fire. He wisely went back to Hollands the next night and threw a perfect inning, sitting down the side in order.
Jake Diekman, another young, hard throwing lefty, looks to be finding his game as well. Diekman has gained valuable major league experience of the past couple of seasons, and it looks like it is starting to pay off. After two rough outings against the Rangers, Diekman has bounced back against the Chicago Cubs in back-to-back games. While he features some nasty stuff, he struggles with his control, but has done a better job and it has led to success.
Antonio Bastardo has been solid so far, and the Phillies will continue to turn to him for the eighth inning. His biggest problem is control and walking batters. So far this season, Bastardo has pitched 3.1 innings, walked three, struck out three, but has allowed zero hits, so the walks have not hurt him.
They will need Papelbon to be consistently good and their young talent to develop and progress. For a team that has struggled to score runs over the past few seasons, but features a quality starting rotation, the bullpen will be critical the rest of the season. They will be called upon frequently in one and two run games, and Sandberg will rely on them to close games out.