Phillies bullpen a surprising strength, another reason for hope

Phillies bullpen a surprising strength, another reason for hope

We interrupt The Rhys Hoskins Show to bring you this important message: The Phillies’ bullpen may not be as bad as most people seem to think it is.

While Hoskins, along with Nick Williams, Jorge Alfaro and recent call-up J.P. Crawford are providing a glimpse of the lineup of the near future, (with Scott Kingery waiting in the wings) the arms coming out of Pete Mackanin’s pen have been getting the job done of late.

You’d have trouble picking Yacksel Rios, Victor Arano, Hoby Milner, Edubray Ramos and Luis Garcia out of a lineup. But Saturday they combined to pitch five hitless innings after a 1:46 rain delay in a 5-3 win over the franchise that once called Philadelphia home, the Oakland A’s.

Yes, Ramos did serve up a grand slam to the A’s Joey Wendle Sunday, but prior to that — and a Jed Lowrie solo blast off erratic closer Hector Neris Saturday — the pen had blanked the opposition over 18 2/3 innings.

It’s enough to raise hopes for the future, although what happens in September of a lost season where avoiding 100 losses is the current goal, doesn’t necessarily mean it will happen next April or May.

“Certainly the test of a player’s ability is stretched out of over six months,” warned Pete Mackanin, whose bullpen has been the second most efficient in baseball since Aug. 27 behind only the Indians. “We’ve all heard that you have to take with a grain of salt spring training performance as well as September performance. But we’re getting a good idea. When [Joaquin] Benoit and [Pat] Neshek left everybody kind of thought our bullpen was going to scuffle, but they’ve been outstanding. They’re all contributing and pitching very well. That’s the reason we’re improving.”

Yet it’s anyone’s guess who among that group, plus Adam Morgan, Ricardo Pinto, Kevin Segrist and Zac Curtis will break camp from Clearwater next spring with the parent club.

“It’s pretty much a trial for all of us,” said Milner, who’s distinguished himself as a left-handed setup man, compiling a sparkling 1.71 ERA in 31 appearances. “We don’t have many guys in the bullpen that have a spot for next year. We’re all out there trying to show what we can do and for the most part are doing a pretty good job.”

In Milner’s case has it been enough to lock up a spot for next year?

“I never think ‘enough,’” he replied. “I’ve done a good job, but there’s always room for improvement. I think I’m in their plans a lot more than when I got here, but I still have work to do.”

Fellow southpaw Morgan, who has the third best ERA in baseball since Aug. 1, may have already convinced the brass he belongs. The last lefthander to start a game for the Phillies (last Sept. 28) is taking nothing for granted.

“I think we’ve shown we can perform, said Morgan, who may yet wind up back in the rotation, now that he’s healthy and has his velocity back to go with a deadly changeup. “We’re up to the challenge and they can feel safe calling on any of us. The more guys who perform are just going to make spring training competition that much better. I don’t think anybody is under contract right now, so there are spots open. Everybody will have an opportunity.”

Of course, a lot can happen between now and April. But there seems a decent chance that the two lefthanders, Morgan and Milner, along with some combination between Garcia, Ramos, Rios, Arano and injured Jensen Terrine will stick. As for Neris, whose inconsistency in the closer’s role has been maddening, it wouldn’t be shocking for the Phil’s to look elsewhere.

That’s just one of the many decisions general manager Matt Kenta and the front office have facing them this winter. But at least their much beleaguered bullpen — along with Hoskins, who went on hiatus this weekend with an 0-for-11 with six strikeouts, give them reasons for hope.

And more important something to build on, following a season they’d all rather forget.

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