Amaro: Phils' bullpen a 'balancing act'
This is the dilemma facing Phillies general manager Ruben Amaro: He has a veteran team with a young bullpen. A team that needs to win now, and a bullpen that isn’t helping them do it.
“Right now, we have to give these guys an opportunity to try to grow,” Amaro said Thursday morning, before the Phillies faced the Pirates in a day game at Citizens Bank Park.
“How much they can grow throughout the course of the season, I don't know. We have some talent there, but it's tough to put some of the kids in this position, because we're in a position to win and and to want to win on a consistent basis, so it’s not an easy thing for kids to do.
“I think it’s a good challenge for them and in some ways I think it’ll help develop them a little bit, but at the same time it’s an area where we’ve lacked consistency.”
So on the one hand, Amaro concedes the bullpen is “an area we have to address.” But on the other hand, he doesn’t want to give up on some of the young arms he currently has in the pen.
After Thursday’s roster activity -- the Phillies got rid of Chad Qualls and Joe Savery and brought up Brian Sanches and Jeremy Horst -- the Phils had seven relievers in the reformed bullpen: Righties Jonathan Papelbon, Michael Schwimer and Sanches and lefties Antonio Bastardo, Jake Diekman, Horst and Raúl Valdes.
The Phils also have four relievers on the disabled list -- Jose Contreras, Justin De Fratus, David Herndon and Michael Stutes -- all righties, none of them expected back this year.
Of the group currently manning the Phils’ beleagured bullpen, Valdes (34), Sanches (33) and Papelbon (31) are older veterans, so when Amaro talks about the young arms he likes, he means Schwimer, Horst and Bastardo (all 26) and Diekman (25).
But how patient can Amaro afford to be? The Phillies, despite all their problems, began play nine games out in the N.L. East and 7 1/2 back in the wild-card race. And with Chase Utley back and Ryan Howard and Roy Halladay expected back soon, the Phillies feel like they still have plenty to play for.
“It is a little bit of a balancing act,” Amaro said. “You know, Diekman comes out and throws pretty well. There’ve been times Schwimer’s come out and thrown well, and Bastardo needs to be a little more consistent.
“Again, it’s a matter of these guys getting opportunities, see how they handle them, and if there’s an opportunity to improve the club in that area, we’ll try.”
But Amaro warned that making deadline trades will be harder than ever this year because of the second wild-card. Teams that in the past felt like they were too far out to contend for a playoff berth now won’t be willing to part with valued components.
“One of the residual effects of the two wild cards is that you’re not going to see a lot of movement, because there will be a lot more teams that think that will be in it -- or at least believe that they are,” he said. “Us being one of them.
“As far back as we are right now, we still believe we have a chance to be a contender. And we are one. Obviously, we have to play more consistent baseball over the next several weeks, but I believe in our club being a contender still, and we’re five games under .500, and there are some other teams saying the same thing.”
And the teams that will wind up being sellers generally don’t have a lot of quality bullpen help to spare.
“Look around the league,” he said. “I don’t view a lot of teams with a whole lot of depth, to be frank with you. We might have some depth in one area and be able to help an area that’s a weakness. But I just don’t see all that many teams with a ton of depth.”
Amaro indicated that if the Phillies do get more bullpen help, it would more likely come from the minors than from a trade with another big-league club.
The Phillies have already brought up seven pitchers from Lehigh Valley at some point this year -- Diekman, Horst, B.J. Rosenberg, Sanches, Savery, Schwimer and Valdes.
Possibilities for the next bus from Allentown to South Philly are David Purcey (1-0, 3.56), Tyler Cloyd (7-1, 2.17) or Phillippe Aumont (1-1, 5.06).
Amaro said he’d be reluctant to convert a guy like Cloyd from a starter to a reliever, so if the Phils pluck somebody from the rotation, it would more likely be someone such as Scott Elarton (5-5, 4.44) or Pat Misch (5-9, 4.24).
“It’s kind of tough,” Amaro said. “You just don’t know whether that [reliever’s] arm can bounce back in the right way. I typically do not like to do that with young players. It might be more of a veteran guy that we might do it with.
“Every time those guys throw down there we keep an eye on them, try to assess them and see whether they can be viable options for us.”
The Phils’ bullpen is in shambles after Wednesday’s 11-7 loss-by-committee, in which six relievers allowed a combined 14 hits, six walks and 11 earned runs. Savery and Qualls, who allowed eight of the 11 runs, are now gone.
Overall, Phillies relievers have given up 198 hits, 76 walks and 102 earned runs in 196 2/3 innings this year. The Phils’ pen ranks 28th of 30 teams with a 4.67 ERA (ahead of N.L. East rivals Miami at 4.81 and the Mets at 5.09) and 25th in batting average against at .261.
Amaro defended the organization’s decision to try to get through Wednesday’s game with relievers, saying it was the best of several not-so-great options.
“We felt like the option that we had of starting Valdez was a better option than we had otherwise,” he said.
Asked why the Phils didn’t consider bringing up somebody like Cloyd, Misch or Elarton from Lehigh Valley, he said, “Want me to repeat the answer? Same answer.”E-mail Reuben Frank at firstname.lastname@example.org