The Phillies Should Avoid Panic Over Pitchers

Why tinker when everything is going to be just fine?

UPDATE: The Phillies have officially placed Ryan Madson on the 15-day disabled list. The club should still avoid panicking—Madson pitched well in the three weeks since being hit and should return shortly. Bastardo will likely close while he’s out. Things are peachy—bruised, but peachy.

In April 2007, Philadelphia was a title-starved city contemplating running Charlie Manuel out of town. I was a freshman at Penn State’s University Park MacGyvering a cable from my laptop to the TV in my dorm room to watch the games on MLBTV. George W. Bush was barely halfway through his second term. “The situation” was simply a term used to describe someone’s unfortunate beach attire. And the Mets were the reigning champions of the National League East.

Four years ago, Phillies baseball was a different monster. The Fightin’s were a team that missed the post-season by three games in ’06 and just one game the year before. They hadn’t seen playoff action since Mitch Williams *wince* rubbernecked to see Joe Carter’s walk-off homer disappear beyond the left field wall in the SkyDome, the Phils ’93 championship hopes in tow. But 2007 was going to be different—the Phils had finally put the pieces together and, I was sure, the ’07 playoffs were a certainty for the club. Enter Ryan Madson.

The Phils had no idea what to do with Madson. He had thrived in the minors as a starting pitcher, but the team needed some help in the pen and turned him into a reliever. He led the NL with 32 holds in 2005 so, logically, the team turned him back into a starter over the offseason. Then, a guy named Cole Hamels raced through the system and wound up on the hill in Philly during the ’06 campaign, sending Madson back to the pen. Which is exactly where he found himself to begin the 2007 season.

In the 10th inning of a 3-3 tie against NL East rival Atlanta, good ol’ Cholly handed Madson the ball, entrusting the 26-year-old with the first game of a long and pivotal season. Madson took that ball, hung it over the plate and watched as Edgar Renteria sent it over the wall after missing two bunt attempts and falling down 0-2. The Phils lost and were officially a game back of the division lead.

The second game of 2007 went similarly, as Manuel sent Madson to the bump in extras and Madson gave up a go-ahead blast. The Phils dropped a second-straight, extra-inning game thanks to a Madson pitch that landed in the seats.

I wanted his head. Even months later, as I watched the final game of the season in my apartment, I kept thinking that if they missed the playoffs by a game I would never forgive Madson for choking two away to start the year. Wins in April count the same as wins in September. But, alas, the Phils pulled it out, won the division, brought home two consecutive NL pennants and were World Champions in 2008. And now, here I am, actively defending Ryan Madson, and the rest of the bullpen, as the team seems poised to make moves before the July 31st trade deadline.

Phillies GM Ruben Amaro Jr. has adamantly stated that the Phils intend to fly under the radar as the deadline appears on the horizon, but we’ve all come to know better when it comes to the arms-dealer extraordinaire. (We will not bring Domonic Brown up. We will not bring Domonic Brown up. We’ve decided to bring Domonic Brown up.) And with Brad Lidge out, Jose Contreras returning to the DL, J.C. Romero out of a job and injury woes with starters Oswalt and Blanton, it’s fair to assume that Amaro and the Phillies are at least considering looking outside the organization to bolster the bullpen. But here’s the thing: They don’t need to bolster anything.

Right now, the Phils pen has tallied up a 3.10 ERA, good for eighth in the Bigs. Madson has been lights-out as a closer—converting on all but two save opportunities, one of which came as he was pitching with sore muscles in his throwing hand from deflecting a batted ball. Mike Stutes has a 2.96 ERA, has given up only two home runs over 24.2 innings and has been nothing short of incredibly entertaining on Twitter. Antonio Bastardo is “J.C. Romero 2.0,” the concept is still the same—energetic southpaw from the pen who sits down anyone batting lefty and most of those batting right—but he comes without the baggage. Lidge has begun to throw bullpen sessions and will be back in due time, as will Contreras. The Phillies don’t need to panic. Especially when one of the biggest assets to their pen isn’t even a relief pitcher—he’s an ace.

Roy Halladay has thrown five complete games this season, which is more than all but four of the other 29 teams. What’s more is how well the bullpen throws after Halladay pitches. In games immediately following a Halladay start, the pen is sporting a 1.96 ERA and has given up only seven runs—five of which belong to Danny Baez, who shouldn’t be pitching anyway.

The playoffs are practically a foregone conclusion at this point as the Phils boast a Major League-best 49-30 record and are five games ahead in the division. In a seven-game series Halladay would make at least two, probably three starts. That leaves four starts to be divided between Lee, Hamels and a fourth if need be. With that kind of consistency on the mound for seven-or-so innings a contest, and the guys in the pen pitching like they do following a Halladay start, why shuffle guys around to improve something that is already working? The Phils should package what they don’t need (read: Kyle Kendrick) for a right-handed outfielder as the deadline approaches. But, as far as the bullpen is concerned, Amaro shouldn’t break the glass and pull the alarm just yet.

Bob Lemon, a former Major League pitcher, once said, “I’ve come to the conclusion that the two most important things in life are good friends and a good bullpen.”

I don’t know who Ruben Amaro spends his happy hours with or who he’s BBMing, but I will vouch for this Phillies bullpen.