Bullpen woes continue as Phillies fall to Pirates
A couple times a season, a manager has to lean on the bullpen to get all 27 outs in a game. For the Phillies on Wednesday night at Citizens Bank Park, it was one of those nights where thanks to a doubleheader on Sunday, the team was short a starting pitcher.
But all the 11-7 loss to the Pirates did was show that the Phillies were short a few relievers also (see Instant Replay)
Manager Charlie Manuel used six of them on Wednesday night and, save for lefties Jake Diekman and Antonio Bastardo, they all had a rough time. Starting with Raul Valdes, who allowed three runs on a pair of hits and walks, the ‘pen allowed six walks, three homers and five extra-base hits.
It was rough.
“It kind of backfired,” Manuel said of the plan to go with the bullpen against the Pirates. “We got lit up.”
Perhaps it wouldn’t have been so bad if the Phillies’ offense hadn’t been so lively as well. With Chase Utley back in the lineup for the first time this season, the Phils had a little extra juice when they took the field to start the game. The team’s mojo was off the charts when Utley slugged a solo homer in his first plate appearance of the season only to be followed by one immediately after by Carlos Ruiz.
Nevertheless, turning to the bullpen was a risky strategy given how the team’s firemen had pitched this season. Heading into the game, the relievers were ranked 12th in the National League with a 4.46 ERA despite pitching the second-fewest amount of innings in the league. Though the relievers had 188 strikeouts in 189-plus innings headed into the game, they had served up the third-most amount of homers (26) of any relieving staff in the NL.
“There is a couple of ways to look at that. There was doubt probably that our bullpen would hold them,” Manuel said. “At the same time there are times we use our bullpen, like Tampa Bay did the other day, we felt like this, knowing what we had starting for us at the minor leagues, this actually might have given us more flexibility in what we wanted to achieve.”
For a short while it looked as if it was going to work when Utley and Ruiz got the team off to a strong start.
Those good feelings were short-lived, however, because instead of slamming the door Valdes allowed the momentum to slip away with a pair of walks and a three-run homer to Pirates catcher Michael McKenry. From there the Pirates added two more in the fourth on a homer by Casey McGehee and three runs in the fifth all off lefty Joe Savery.
As quickly Utley had the troops fired up, the bullpen crashed the party.
“He was definitely fired up. Our team was definitely fired up,” Manuel said. “When we came out of the gate we were really pumped, but when the kid hit the three-run homer in the second inning that definitely took some of the starch out of us for a little while.”
The Phillies' offense didn’t pack it in though. In the sixth inning they scored a pair of runs with a two-out rally before posting three more runs in the seventh highlighted by an RBI triple from Jimmy Rollins and a single by Juan Pierre. When Utley and Ruiz singled to put the tying run on second and the go-ahead run on first with no outs, it looked as if the Phils were going to slug their way to a win.
Not this time.
Instead, Hunter Pence fanned at a 3-2 pitch out of the strike zone against righty Brad Lincoln before Shane Victorino lifted a first-pitch fly ball to left. With pinch hitter Jim Thome at the plate, Lincoln fired three pitches past him for the rally-killing whiff.
Once again the momentum was swinging the Phillies' way and once again the bullpen burned down any chance of a victory when the much-maligned right-hander Chad Qualls promptly gave up three runs when he walked the first hitter he faced before serving up a double to Drew Sutton and a two-run homer to Andrew McCutchen.
“We were a hit away. We were a pitch away,” Manuel said. “Sometimes that’s what happens.”
This season it’s happened a lot to Qualls, whose ERA jumped from 3.86 to 4.60 after giving up three runs in the eighth inning, which is quite representative of the way he’s pitched. In 35 games, Qualls has had seven appearances in which he retired each batter he faced, though only three times he’s done that in at least an inning of work. He’s allowed seven homers, which is the same amount he allowed last season in 77 appearances and has notched just 19 strikeouts against nine walks in 31 1/3 innings.
Most telling, the opposition is batting .302 against Qualls this season.
“He’s hard to figure out,” Manuel said. “At times when he comes in he does do the job every now and then. His stuff looks like it’s pretty good at times. He’s been getting hit, and he’s been getting hit hard. Hopefully we can get him going and he’ll be more consistent.”
It’s not just Qualls, though. Take away closer Jonathan Papelbon and the Phils’ relievers have a 4.96 ERA. That makes it tough to get the ball to the closer for a save chance.
“We have to get our bullpen straightened out,” Manuel said. Absolutely, we have to. We see it and they know it. They have to improve.”
With Utley back and the offense again taking shape, the Phillies are confident that things will come around. It will have to happen quickly, though. At 36-41 the team is tied for last in the NL East with the Marlins.