Phillies Mailbag: Bullpen, Bullpen, and More Bulllpen
We are back once again with the 97.3 ESPN Phillies mailbag. Send your questions to the 97.3 ESPN text board at 609-403-0973 or send them to @FrankKlose on Twitter. Each week on Tuesday afternoon we answer your questions on the air during the Sports Bash with Mike Gill.
Why is Hector Neris back?
The Phillies suffered a real blow this week when reliever Edubray Ramos went down with an injury. I will fully admit that I have been highly critical of Ramos in the past. I felt that at times he was a bit immature (such as when he beaned Asdrubal Cabrera last season and created a mess) but he really seemed to get things together. Ramos is now 2-0 with a 1.24 earned run average.
Looking at the Phillies roster, the other options at Triple-A are not really much better than giving Neris another chance. Remember, Neris is the guy who closed out 2017 by saving 20 games in a row. He does not seem to have lost velocity; perhaps it was something mental.
Sometimes a trip to Triple-A is enough to shake things up.
Besides, of Drew Anderson, Ben Lively, Jake Thompson, and Mark Leiter, Jr., who has the most upside? Those would be the other options. The 10-day demotion rule does not apply because of the injury.
They're banking on Neris having learned his lesson and coming back strong. They don't have many options right now.
How do we fix this bullpen?
This is a loaded question. I am going to start with Tim's questions by focusing on the possibility of making a trade. The 2017 Washington Nationals are a good example of how a bullpen could be fixed quickly enough with a few moves. The Nationals this time were a complete, utter mess this time last year. Then they made moves.
The Nationals acquired not one, not two, but three impact relievers ahead of the trade deadline.
First came a trade in which the Nationals took on Ryan Madson and Sean Doolittle from the Oakland Athletics. Madson is from the right side, Doolittle from the left side. Doolittle today is their closer and Madson has been effective, though not at the level he was for the Phillies in 2011.
Then, the Nationals traded for Minnesota Twins closer Brandon Kintzler. They were able to sign him at a good rate and he is back for 2018, though he suffered an injury. Yet, the Nationals did not stop there.
Adding Kelvin Herrera last week was a big move for the Nationals. Many analysts around baseball were surprised the Kansas City Royals would give up and make a trade so early. They might have gotten a better deal at the deadline. Instead, perhaps due to injury concerns, they made the deal now.
The Phillies should see who is willing to sell right now. There are likely other teams looking for some salary relief and the Phillies are able to take it. The problem is, many teams are in contention at this moment and unwilling to trade assets.
For example, the argument may be made that only four teams in the National League are out of contention. Even the Pirates, four games below .500, are arguably in contention. Would the Marlins, Mets, Padres, or Reds make a trade?
The Padres have some nice relief options, as do the Reds. The Phillies must decide what their threshold is in terms of trading young talent. The Phillies are still deep and can probably get a deal done for someone. They will likely look towards those what are controllable, such as Brad Hand and Raisel Iglesias.
What options would the Phillies have internally to fix the bullpen?
We mentioned that the Phillies have only a few relievers on their 40-man roster. But I think that fixing the bullpen predicament internally involves converting a starter to a reliever. The reason they have that luxury is because they have someone ready to jump into the starting rotation in Enyel De Los Santos.
At Triple-A Lehigh Valley, De Los Santos has been tremendous. After 14 starts, De Los Santos is 7-3 with a 1.73 earned run average. De Los Santos could even have a better record than he does.
Only twice all season has De Los Santos given up three earned runs. Both of them resulted in two of his three losses, one of them when he went six innings, and another in which he pitched seven innings. Those are "quality starts" by the stat's standards.
The other loss was a game in which De Los Santos allowed just one earned run.
With De Los Santos proving that there is little left for him to accomplish at Triple-A, now is a good time to give him a shot in the major leagues. Adding De Los Santos to the major league rotation means that someone would have to exit the rotation. It represents an opportunity to try to solidify the back end of the bullpen.
Zach Eflin has been very productive for the Phillies in 2018. That is often attributed to an increase in velocity this season. Eflin is striking out 9.24 batters per nine innings, and has walked 12 in just under 50 innings. Eflin is not the type of pitcher who uses more than two pitches very often. That could make him a candidate to get a quick inning late where opponents are not going to see him again and he will not have to mix in third or fourth pitches.
The increased velocity could be something the Phillies ride at the back end.
And then there is Vince Velasquez, whom we have discussed repeatedly for a potential bullpen role. I think the worry about Velasquez in the bullpen relates to what we saw from Velasquez in Monday night's start. With the Yankees in town and facing some of the bigger power names in baseball, Velasquez took a while to settle in.
Since Velasquez was overthrowing early, how might he fare in the back-end of a game where he knows he only has to get three outs? Would the same unrest affect him more? The end result Monday was six innings and one earned run, despite the early rough start, so it looks like Velasquez settles down later once he gets going.
With Tommy Hunter getting $18 million and Pat Neshek getting $16 million this offseason, it could be argued that either player might make more money in the bullpen than they might being a fourth or fifth starter. So it's not really a "demotion" as one might have traditionally seen it. But if either Eflin or Velasquez are willing to make a jump for the good of the team, it might help.
Brett Myers made the jump in 2007. That took a good young team with a bad bullpen and made them a playoff team. That could happen again.