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Spring Question: Who Will Win The LOOGY Battle?

Saturday’s injury to Brad Lidge underscored what has become the Phillies’ Achilles heel the past few years. There’s never been enough of an offseason upgrade to solidify a broken-down bullpen. Last year, the Phils signed Antonio Alfonseca to pitch late in games, and for most of the season was effective. He was carrying a 3.77 ERA on August 18 and converted 8 of 10 save opportunities during an emergency closer run. Imagine not having him. Who would’ve stepped in when Brett Myers and Tom Gordon went down?

This year the Phils signed nobody to help fill the bullpen; trading for Brad Lidge is a lateral move to get Myers back to the rotation. With a back four comprised of Lidge, Gordon, JC Romero and Ryan Madson, there seems to be stability (albeit very hesitantly) at the back end.

Last year’s front end of the bullpen featured a multitude of young and old: Joe Bisenius, Mike Zagurski, Fabio Castro, Matt Smith, Jose Mesa, Geoff Geary, Francisco Rosario, Brian Sanches, John Ennis, Kane Davis, Yoel Hernandez, etc.  None of these options were that reliable, sans a few good innings from Geary and Rosario. This year’s back end is quite possibly the same game of reliever roulette.

While this probably isn’t the best idea in the world (which I spoke about before), the goal in reliever roulette is to find the right number and stick with it for a good while. So which number will stick?

To open the season, look for anyone: Shane Youman, Castro, Zagurski, Scott Mathieson, Rosario, Chad Durbin. It seems Durbin should have a spot in the bullpen, and Mathieson — if healthy — could prove to be a reliable chip. I worry most, however, about the final lefty spot, which can go to either Youman or Castro, as Zagurski is injured and will be out for a portion of the Spring and beyond.

So who wins the battle: Youman or Castro? Youman will pitch Friday against his former team, the Pirates, while Castro’s first action comes Sunday against the Yankees. Whoever wins needs to be reliable as a one-out lefty, because he’s one JC Romero breakdown or injury away from having the spotlight shine down on him.

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