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Phillies notebook: No relief in sight

Posted by Ron Opher On May 10

The Phillies optioned Michael Schiwmer back to AAA when they activated Cliff Lee Wednesday. After one scoreless appearance, Schwimer gave up runs in his last 4 appearances, 3 of which the Phillies’ bullpen blew leads in. He heads to Lehigh Valley with an 8.53 ERA. After the game, Joe Savery was sent north too. More on that in a moment.

Schwimer’s departure didn’t stop the bullpen’s 7th and 8th inning woes. Apparently it wasn’t enough for Charlie Manuel that Kyle Kendrick blew a 4-2 lead and gave up three 7th inning runs. Manuel sent Kendrick back out for the 8th, let Kendrick put the first two men on, then turned to Jose Contreras, who after retiring Justin Turner, served up a 3-run homer to Ike Davis. Contreras then gave up an unearned run, but by then the damage was already done. A 4-2 lead became a 9-4 deficit in the span of 2 innings – not unlike the 4-1 lead going up in smoke the night before. Just to make the night complete, the third Phillies reliever to toe the rubber didn’t escape unscathed either, as Andres Torres greeted Brian Sanches with a leadoff home run in the 9th, and the Mets won, 10-6. This game capped a stretch where the bullpen has sported an ugly 7.92 ERA going back to April 21. Equally ugly, the Phillies have lost 6 of their last 8, and held leads in the 6th inning or later in 5 of those 6 losses.

It may be time for a radical bullpen shakeup – why Joe Savery, Michael Schwimer and Brian Sanches have gotten the call from AAA, but the Iron Pigs’ best reliever is still there remains a mystery – which is reportedly about to be solved. Jake Diekman wowed Rich Dubee this spring, getting assigned to minor league camp at the late date of March 27. Instead of sulking, Diekman has struck out 22 batters in 15 relief innings, against only 3 walks. He has a win and 5 saves in 13 appearances, and has only allowed one run (for a 0.59 ERA). Last season, at AA Reading, Diekman struck out 83 in 65 innings, with a 3.04 ERA – though he issued 44 walks. Diekman’s excellent command thus far merits a call up. He also averages 20+ innings per home run allowed. By way of comparison, Antonio Bastardo as a minor leaguer gave up a home run every 14 innings, with slightly higher strikeout totals and slightly lower walk totals. It’s a favorable enough comparison to give Diekman a shot. Now.

*****

Ruben’s got some explaining to do: To his credit, Ruben Amaro, Jr. took phone calls during the pregame show on radio before Wednesday’s game, as he always does. Among other notable sound bites about the team’s play, when asked if he’d trade Cole Hamels if the Phillies were not contending at the trade deadline, Amaro said he’d trade his mother, Judy, if it would help the team. Amaro did go on to say that he felt the Phillies would be buyers at the trade deadline, but also did not discount the possibility of trading Roy Halladay or Cliff Lee if Hamels could be re-signed. Amaro also shot down the suggestion of moving Vance Worley to the bullpen, bumping Joe Blanton up to #4 starter and going with Kyle Kendrick in the rotation. He said that he liked the rotation as it is – but maybe what he didn’t say was just as telling – that Kendrick is not pitching well in any role, and certainly should not get promoted to the rotation as a “fix.”

All that talk about big items, and I would have asked Amaro about the little things that seem to have slid by him:

1. The Padres traded a strikeout machine in relief – righthander Ernesto Frieri – to the Angels exactly a week ago for 2 mid-level prospects. All Frieri has done in his third full season in MLB is struck out 11.6 batters per 9 innings, never having an ERA above 2.71. He’s also not arbitration-eligible until 2014 – that’s the rest of this year and next year under team control at about $500K per season. A fraction of what Chad Qualls or Jose Contreras are making. Why weren’t the Phillies in on that?

2. The Nats, who are missing closer Drew Storen and backup closer Brad Lidge to injury, signed lefty Mike Gonzalez to a minor league deal this past week. Yes, Gonzalez had a 4.39 ERA last season. But he also still managed (at age 33) just shy of a strikeout an inning, to go with his career 10.6 K/9. Did the Phillies have no interest?

3. Why isn’t Jake Diekman on the big club? Unlike the first two questions, where Amaro might not have wanted to admit he was either asleep at the wheel or beaten to the punch, on this question, he has total control over the outcome. And it appears that he is about to answer it on the heels of Joe Savery’s demotion. No sense giving an extra day of major league service time to either player on an off-day. Diekman may be joined by fellow lefthander Raul Valdes and bench player Hector Luna, according to a Twitter report by Schwimer Thursday. Speculation is that Brian Sanches and Erik Kratz can share a ride up the Northeast Extension.

*****

Charlie’s got some explaining to do, too: Just because the Phillies’ bullpen has been brutal over the last week, does not mean the offense gets a free pass. On Tuesday night, when asked if it’s time for another team meeting, Manuel said that they had one in San Diego (about 3 weeks ago) and that “I don’t know what to say [to them]. When they chase a bad pitch ahead in the count…when they swing at the first pitch and it’s out of the zone…it’s all about [them] trying too hard.”

As it turned out, Manuel had plenty to say to the team after Wednesday’s game. It was all Chuck, all the time – no players spoke. Afterward, Manuel said “I’ve been wanting to talk to them…we’ve given away 7 or 8 ballgames already…we’ve got to wake up and play better…[we have to change] the whole environment of how we’ve been doing it….how we’ve been going about things…how we get ready for the game and how we play in the game.”

It also came out after the game that Kyle Kendrick, who knew he would be headed to the bullpen after his last start Friday, did not throw at all on the side in the 4 days since – something he would have normally done had he been in the bullpen all along. Kendrick admitted he took the wrong approach and took responsibility for how it turned out.

Manuel also addressed Hunter Pence‘s dropped fly ball and Andres Torres’ sinking liner that Shane Victorino should have let fall in for a leadoff single (which would have stranded Torres), but instead his overaggressiveness turned the play into a leadoff triple, which the Mets took advantage of to tie the game at 2. “I’m concerned about all that…some of it is [lack of concentration], some of it is situation of the game and actually knowing what you’re supposed to do.”

*****

Hamilton sets record: Josh Hamilton of the Texas Rangers became the 16th player in major league history to hit 4 home runs in a game in a 10-3 win at Baltimore Tuesday night. Adding a double not only made him the 7th MLB player ever with 5 extra base hits in a game, but also gave him the AL record for total bases in a game, with 18. The last player to hit 4 homers in a game was Carlos Delgado, in 2003. By the way, Hamilton – who leads the majors with 14 home runs – will be a free agent this off-season. GM’s salivating over his prodigious stats must also be given pause by Hamilton’s admission of an off-season relapse in his battle with substance abuse. It will be interesting to see whether Hamilton, Cole Hamels, or another player in a well-stocked free agent class, gets the richest contract either as an extension with his current team, or perhaps with a new deal and a new team.

Interestingly, there is only one franchise to have more than one 4-homer game. Let’s make it a trivia question to guess the franchise and the players who did it. First with the correct answer (use comments section below) gets 2 vouchers to see the Camden Riversharks on the date of your choice (as long as tickets are available).

*****

Cole-fired (up) – a case of suspended animation: So Cole Hamels hits Bryce Harper with a pitch – a fastball in the back – the first time the two ever face each other. Hamels first says “whatever,” then says “yeah, I hit him on purpose” (or words to that effect). Hamels tries to paint himself as old-school, without explaining why he did it other than to say “welcome to the big leagues” to Harper. As a result – of his admission, more so than of hitting Harper – Hamels was suspended 5 games. Which is no big deal, since the Thursday off-day allows Hamels and Roy Halladay to switch places in the rotation in such a way that Halladay goes on regular rest (Saturday) and Hamels goes on two days’ extra rest (Sunday), instead of each pitcher having an extra day.

For Harper’s part, all he could do – after he went from first to third on a single and then stole home on a Hamels pickoff throw to first – was be effusive in his praise for Hamels as a pitcher afterward. Nats pitcher Jordan Zimmermann, who plunked Hamels with a curveball on the leg later in Sunday’s game, was mum about his intentions – and therefore not suspended. But the situation didn’t end there.

Washington GM Mike Rizzo unleashed a verbal tirade against Hamels – apparently showing his “Natitude” in the process – and got fined an undisclosed sum by Major League Baseball. Rizzo said: “I’ve never seen a more classless, gutless chicken [bleep] act in my 30 years in baseball … It was a gutless chicken [bleep] [bleeping] act. That was a fake-tough act. No one has ever accused Cole Hamels of being old school. Cole Hamels says he’s old school? He’s the polar opposite of old school. He’s fake tough.”

No word on whether Rizzo plans to stand on top of the Nats’ dugout when the teams meet again in less than 2 weeks at Citizens Bank Park, Peter Laviolette-style.

By the way, the Phillies won that game – their only win in their last 6 tries. If Hamels was trying to fire up his teammates, it may have worked. But only for one game. Someone else is going to have to figure out how to get the Phillies fired up every day, unless the plan is to have a AAA reliever come in and throw at the other team’s star player, then get suspended and be replaced by another minor leaguer who’ll do the same thing the next game, and so on…

Looking ahead: After Thursday’s off-day, the woeful Padres (11-21) come into town for the weekend, followed by a pair of games with the Astros to conclude the homestand. After noting that the Mets, Padres and Astros were picked by most to be the 3 last-place teams in the National League in 2012, I had mentioned on our weekly internet radio show that it was imperative that the Phillies have a winning homestand. In order to do that now, the Phils will have to take 5 in a row.





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4 Responses

  1. Philadelphia Phillies posts - Chronological list & links | Philly Phanatics - THE online community for Philly sports fanatics Says:

    [...] Phillies notebook: No relief in sight (5/10/12) [...]

    Posted on May 10th, 2012 at 8:47 pm

  2. Phillies win streak at 5, Phils over .500, Red Sox in town | Philly Phanatics - THE online community for Philly sports fanatics Says:

    [...] already called out Ruben Amaro for 3 non-moves last week, and suggested two weeks ago that Jose Contreras will be released before too long. I also compared [...]

    Posted on May 18th, 2012 at 8:49 am

  3. Phillies notebook: Hooray for Hollywood | Philly Phanatics - THE online community for Philly sports fanatics Says:

    [...] on the mound have been quite good. Earlier, though, I had said that I felt he was rushed back. I had also said that Ruben Amaro missed a great opportunity to trade for then-Padre Ernesto Frieri, at a very reasonable price. The Angels snapped him up for [...]

    Posted on June 2nd, 2012 at 4:40 pm

  4. Philadelphia Phillies archive - Chronological list & links | Philly Phanatics - THE online community for Philly sports fanatics Says:

    [...] Phillies notebook: No relief in sight (5/10/12) [...]

    Posted on June 23rd, 2012 at 9:18 pm

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