Opinion

Cure for bullpen blues? Not an outside arm



“Nope. Nope nope nope nope. Nope.”

That was me Tuesday night while watching Luis Garcia surrender single after single after demoralizing single in the ninth inning. The Phillies nearly squandered their 5-1 lead totally, but then came Seranthony Dominguez, who finally got the outs necessary and secured the win for the Philadelphia Tightrope Walkers.

Aside from Dominguez (1.42 ERA, 22 K, 1 BB) and “Big” Edubray Ramos (0.75 ERA, 27 K, 10 BB) the Phillies bullpen has been a disaster lately. Hector Neris has a 5.01 ERA. Garcia is up to 4.74. Tommy Hunter has a 4.08 ERA. Adam Morgan is at 5.29. The veterans have been bad, while the top arms are all 25 and younger (Ramos, Dominguez, 23-year-old Victor Arano).

If the Phillies aim to contend for a playoff spot (and they’re two back of the final wild card), clearly something needs to change. Gabe Kapler can’t continue to lean on Dominguez every time the Phils get in a jam, since it’ll likely doom the 23-year-old fireballer’s career. Solutions are necessary.

But that’s if they aim to contend. Look, we want the Phillies to be in the mix come September, and how great would it be to watch these kids in a postseason game? But let’s be real for a second: The Phillies as constructed right now are not a playoff team. Full stop.

The Phils are currently relying on veteran bats to keep them afloat offensively while younger talent like Nick Williams, Jorge Alfaro, J.P. Crawford, Scott Kingery and Maikel Franco continue to flounder or find some consistency at the plate. The starting pitching staff has mostly been reliable, but as we’re seeing in June, the Phils can’t alone rely on the horses to win ballgames. Of course, we knew all this. Back in March we didn’t think this team was a playoff squad, but that they could be fun to watch, maybe be in the mix for a bit, and stun a couple people. That’s still what’s happening. Everything is literally going to plan, but as the Phils won against bad teams early, expectations changed for some people.

So now let’s reset. The Phils are fine. They’re around .500 and are probably going to be in that range all season. With that knowledge, I don’t think the Phils should be in the hunt for veteran relievers at the trade deadline. I think they should stay the course, use up everything they have in Neris, Garcia, Morgan and Hunter, then cycle in some younger arms.

Down on the farm, keep watch for these names:

  • Austin Davis (25, AAA, LHP): 33.2 IP, 2.94 ERA, 45 K, 10 BB
  • Edgar Garcia (21, AA, RHP): 34 IP, 1.85 ERA, 37 K, 19 BB
  • Luke Leftwich (24, AA, RHP): 24.2 IP, 2.19 ERA, 26 K, 8 BB

I’d rather see the Phils give these youngsters an opportunity as the season crawls toward the dog days. They’d have to make 40-man roster room, but I’m sure you’ll see some names on the move sooner than later.

The point is that the Phils have a mediocre to bad offense, one that isn’t complete and will still be incomplete going into 2019. Yes they may have Manny Machado at shortstop or third base, but they’ll still have a young and developing group around him. The starting pitching staff should be something like this year’s group. Add in a bullpen headlined by Dominguez, Ramos, another one or two young arms and a couple veterans, and now you’re looking at a postseason contender.

Or, to be more succinct: The difference between good performance by a veteran reliever and good performance by a prospect reliever are marginal. There is little need to look outside when we’re talking about margins. Even now, when the Phils are a couple games over .500, the team should still be looking toward the future.

That said, the Phils can’t have Dominguez pitching every important inning this season. The consequences of that kind of usage could really hurt the team’s future.

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