The Philadelphia Phillies have been riddled with injuries to their bullpen since before the 2019 season even got underway. Right-hander Tommy Hunter suffered a flexor strain in his right forearm during spring training, began the season on the Injured List, and remains there as June approaches.
“He’s a weapon, so it’s a big loss when he’s not available,” manager Gabe Kapler said in early April per Philly.com’s Scott Lauber. “He can pitch in any inning. He can go through any spot in the lineup. He’s very similar to what we’re depending on David Robertson to be for this club — high-leverage innings…”
Little did Kapler know, Robertson wouldn’t be far behind Hunter in heading to that Injured List. The right elbow of the former All-Star who was one of the club’s big free agent signings this past off-season began barking in early April.
“But nothing that’s not out of the ordinary,” Robertson said per MLB.com’s Todd Zolecki as he went on the IL. “You can go throughout the whole season, you’re going to have pain somewhere. It’s kind of gotten to that point where the irritation has gotten to be a lot. I’m not too worried about it. It’s on my flexor tendon, it’s where it feels like it is. I’ve had this issue before. It’s been years ago since I’ve had it flare up this bad.”
Those two veteran right-handers would be followed to the Injured List by a continuous parade of relief pitchers. Victor Arano on April 20 with right elbow inflammation. Edubray Ramos on May 13 with right biceps tendinitis. Pat Neshek on May 25 with right shoulder discomfort.
Over the course of the first two months of the regular season, the Phillies had lost five right-handed relievers, all of whom were expected to play a regular role coming out of Kapler’s bullpen this year.
And now it’s not just the righties taking up space on the IL. The club announced today that their primary left-handed reliever, Adam Morgan, was being placed on the Injured List with a left forearm strain.
Phillies reliever Victor Arano had elbow surgery yesterday. Not sure what surgery entailed. It was a scope. Not sure how long he’s out. Awaiting word.
— Jim Salisbury (@JSalisburyNBCS) May 29, 2019
Morgan was one of the biggest surprises this season for the Phillies. After beginning his career as a struggling starter, Morgan was switched to the bullpen where he had produced mixed results over the last couple of seasons.
But in 2019, something finally clicked. Morgan was dominating. He has a 1.96 ERA and 0.709 WHIP over 18.1 innings across 24 appearances. Morgan has allowed just eight hits with an 18/5 K:BB ratio.
He began the season with a franchise-record 16 consecutive scoreless outings, surrendered two earned runs in two of his next three appearances, but had a streak of five straight scoreless games when the injury news was announced. Morgan had not pitched since tossing a scoreless inning in Milwaukee last Friday.
Edubray Ramos and Tommy Hunter threw bullpen sessions today. Gabe Kapler is “pretty confident” they’ll join the bullpen in June. David Robertson is close to starting a throwing progression and it’s “not out of the question” that he’ll be back in June.
— Matt Breen (@matt_breen) May 29, 2019
None of the injured relievers is anywhere close to returning to the fold. So, a trio of young right-handers are also going to have to step up in 24-year-olds Seranthony Dominguez and J.D. Hammer, and 22-year-old Edgar Garcia.
Hector Neris has been outstanding as the Phillies closer this season. The Phillies are now going to be relying upon a pair of veterans, righty Juan Nicasio and lefty Jose Alvarez, to set him up much more frequently than was originally planned.
Perhaps the most important relief pitcher on the Phillies, considering all of the injuries, will be the newest member of the bullpen. That would be former starter Vince Velasquez.
His first two relief appearances over the weekend in Milwaukee produced a mixed bag. A shutdown two innings with four strikeouts followed two days later by a four-run, five-hit debacle in 2/3 of an inning.
The Phillies have promoted 25-year-old righty reliever Yacksel Rios from Triple-A Lehigh Valley to help in the immediate aftermath of the Morgan injury. Rios had allowed 17 hits over 20.2 innings with a 23/9 K:BB with the IronPigs this season. He has 49 games of big-league experience with the Phillies over the last two years with little sustained success to this point.
General Manager Matt Klentak has a busy couple of months in front of him if he wants to keep his club on top of the National League East Division standings. The Phillies need a veteran starting pitcher, a couple of veteran bench pieces, and now could probably use a proven veteran reliever or two as well.
I've been getting the clear vibe that as soon as the dust settles from the draft next week, the #Phillies will be aggressively shopping for the best arms out there. This injury to Morgan just heightens the urgency to do that. https://t.co/1k3ymJ60cY
— Jayson Stark (@jaysonst) May 29, 2019
Nobody said that returning to contention, winning a division crown, and playing deep into October was going to be an easy task. For all of the work done to strengthen the starting lineup this off-season, the game of baseball at the big-league level usually comes down to pitching. The Phillies bullpen now appears to be fraying at the edges with still four months to go.
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