By Chris Murray
For the Chris Murray Report and the Philadelphia Sunday Sun
PHILADELPHIA –If you watched the Phillies 9-6 loss to the Atlanta Braves Monday Night, the most obvious thing to look at is the collapse of the bullpen that gave up seven runs in the last two innings.
Yes, the Phillies bullpen has struggled in the losses this season, but they are not the only problem. The Phils (6-7) have struggled in just about every aspect of the game from hitting, starting pitching and defense. Some days they have gotten good starting pitching and some timely hitting, but then the bullpen collapses.
In defense of the bullpen in Monday’s game, B.J. Rosenberg had pitched in three straight games before coming into that disastrous eighth inning and giving up three straight home runs. Jake Diekman was subbing for closer Jonathan Papelbon, who pitched in three straight games in the weekend series against the Miami Marlins.
“There’s been positive stuff out of the relievers,” said Phillies manager Ryne Sandberg. “They’ve been asked to pitch a lot and they’ve had their moments. It’s early in the season. I think overall if you look at the games we’ve had a chance to win, the relievers had a part in that. They’re progressing and doing a good job.”
Sandberg said both starters and relievers have to do a better of job of getting ahead of hitters.
“I think overall our pitchers have to establish the strike zone and work ahead in counts. I think it’s why we’re one of the slowest, longest games in baseball,” Sandberg said. “Our pitchers are throwing a lot of pitches. On the starting pitcher side of things, they’ve been limited on the time they can be out there and we have to use our bullpen.
“And then for our bullpen guys it’s the same thing with the amount of pitches coming out of the pen .We’ve preached all spring about establishing down in the zone on the plate on the plate work ahead of the hitters and keep the defense on their toes and have the defense make plays.”
In 13 games this season, the Phillies starting pitchers have gone beyond six innings twice which can take a lot out of your bullpen. Also you have to take into consideration that the Phillies have had some of their pitchers on the disabled list-including Mike Adams who was activated by the team on Wednesday.
The good news for the Phillies starting rotation is that Cole Hamels, who will pitch in a rehab assignment in Clearwater, Fla this weekend is expected to come back to the Phils next weekend in Los Angeles. If Hamels and the other starters can get an inning or two beyond six innings, it would help take some stress off the relievers.
“It makes a big difference,” Sandberg said. “You have a starter or two starters going seven innings now you’re talking about covering two instead of three (innings). It makes a difference when you’re looking at a week’s worth of bullpen usage.”
Sandberg also made it a point to say that the offense needs to score more consistently throughout the game. Oddly enough, the Phillies are leading the National League in on-base percentage (.351) and in walks. They are ninth in runs scored and eighth in runs batted in.
“In a perfect world on the offensive side would be to score early, score in the middle and score late,” Sandberg said. “Now you get a starting pitcher that has some runs up on the board early in the game and now maybe they don’t have to be so perfect. We’ve had numerous games like that where it’s very tight for five or six innings and the starting pitching has to be perfect.”
Monday’s loss to the Braves was a classic example of what Sandberg was talking about with the offense and starting pitching. Phillies starting pitcher Roberto Hernandez was shutting out the Braves for five innings, but only had one run to show for it.
In the sixth inning of that game, Hernandez gave up a two-run homer to Evan Gattis that gave Atlanta a 2-1 lead. The Phillies offense did score five runs in the eighth before the bullpen gave up four in the ninth.
The Phillies have to find a way to bottle some consistency in every aspect of the game if they’re going to have a winning season and contend this season.