The best Phillies teams of the last half-century, a period of time in which bullpen usage has become more and more critical in Major League Baseball, have featured strong left-handers helping the team get through the late innings and close out tight ball games.
In 1993, a surprising Phillies club captured another National League pennant with lefty Mitch Williams as their closer. That club also featured left-hander David West coming out of the bullpen to appear in a staff-high 76 games.
The Phillies emerged in the early 21st century from years of losing, beginning a run of more than a decade as a postseason contender. Lefty Rheal Cormier was a key member of the bullpen during the entirety of the first-half of that decade. Veteran Dan Plesac joined him to close out the Veteran’s Stadium years in 2002-03.
For the 2004 season and the opening of Citizens Bank Park the Phillies acquired lefty closer Billy Wagner. For the next two seasons, fans became electrified at each 100 mph fastball that blazed from the diminutive fireballer’s left arm.
As the Phillies team of that mid-2000’s era tried to step up from near-miss contender to actual playoff team, a June 2007 trade brought in left-hander J.C. Romero via trade. He would spend much of the next five years helping the Phillies become a champion, earning a pair of wins in the 2008 World Series.
When the 2011 Phillies set a franchise record with a 102-win regular season the bullpen contributions of young left-hander Antonio Bastardo were crucial.
During this recently completed off-season the Phillies management and ownership checked off a number of boxes in helping push the club back to contending status. But those checks came mostly in the positional lineup as the team added outfielders Bryce Harper and Andrew McCutchen, shortstop Jean Segura and catcher J.T. Realmuto.
Those were fantastic additions to be sure. But many felt that the team could really use both a veteran starting left-handed pitcher and a strong bullpen left-hander to really fill out a true championship contender.
The proven bullpen lefty was out there in free agency if they wanted him. But on January 11, Zack Britton surprised many by choosing to return to the New York Yankees. He’ll have a chance to win championships with the Bronx Bombers and is being paid $13 million per season. Many felt that he would leave for a chance to close, which he will not get in New York, at least not in the short-term.
There are currently five lefty relievers still with the club. Adam Morgan is the lone holdover from last season. Trade acquisitions James Pazos and Jose Alvarez and non-roster invitees Edward Paredes and Jeremy Bleich also remain. Here is a look at a few of their key numbers entering Saint Patrick’s Day:
Morgan and Paredes were clearly the most effective of the group heading into the Sunday game in Clearwater against the Yankees. The 29-year-old Morgan has been with the organization since his selection in the third round of the 2011 MLB Amateur Draft. He remains under club control through arbitration over the next two years.
Paredes signed as a free agent with the Phillies back on January 11. The 32-year-old has pitched in 15 games across the last two seasons with the Los Angeles Dodgers. He pitched in 10 minor league seasons with the Dodgers, Seattle Mariners, Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, and Cleveland Indians. Paredes has also pitched for 10 years during the off-season in his native Dominican Republic.
Paredes has an 11:2 K/BB over 6.1 innings, allowing four hits and no earned runs. Morgan brought an 8:1 K/BB ratio over 5.2 innings during which he allowed just one earned run and four hits into Sunday. That production had to give the club hope.
Unfortunately, Morgan looked bad on Sunday. He surrendered four runs, three of those earned, on three hits and a walk while also committing an error over 1.1 innings. Morgan hurt himself, throwing away a dribbler back to the mound with one out in the top of the 7th inning. Troy Tulowitzki followed with a long two-run homer onto the roof of the Tiki Bar in left at Spectrum Field on a hanging curve ball.
You can pretty much count on the Phillies bullpen having a half-dozen right-handers on Opening Day: Seranthony Dominguez, David Robertson, Hector Neris, Pat Neshek, Juan Nicasio, Edubray Ramos. Depending on whether the club wants to carry a seven or eight-man pen to open the season, that leaves room for one or two more relievers.
Things can certainly change based on injuries and late performances, as Morgan’s implosion today demonstrated perfectly. As things stand right now you have to like the chances of Paredes, a long-shot when camp opened in February, lining up for introductions at Citizens Bank Park on March 28.
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