The Phillies’ Critical-Inning Candidates

Whether Benoit Fires Heaters in the Eighth or Ninth Inning, His Assignment Will Not Be Easy. Photo by Eric Hartline – USA TODAY Sports.

As the most important roles in the bullpen begin to change, they are reflecting the managing during the 2017 World Series, and now the Philadelphia Phillies could establish their late-frame approach to interchangeable relief pitching.

The Evolution of Lead Protection:

When grandparents relate the world of their youth to their grandchildren, that time seems like ancient history to the youngster instead of just 50 years ago.

Listening to two old-timers during a televised Phils contest, young Johnny heard about baseball back in the day between innings and pitches. Then, the top moundsmen were the starters and the others were in the pen, but back then complete games were frequent. And, Johnny, pitching duels between aces were the fuel of many a baseball argument.

Uncle Joe, those relievers didn’t play much, did they? Actually, a handful of them made a name for themselves, and some had trick pitches like a forkball or a knuckleball. But as starting staffs expanded – and despite that – some hard throwers occasionally ended up as closers due to a full rotation. Of course, the guys eating up the innings had bigger paydays.

While the ballgame moved into the middle frames, the conversation continued regarding early saves requiring three innings. In other words, a reliever – Joe’s father stated – went through the lineup once, while starters had three turns through. However, today, teams have setup men and closers – Johnny nodded – working one frame apiece.

During a recent interview, skipper Pete Mackanin mentioned versatility for the final two frames. And while this approach isn’t the one the Cleveland Indians relied on with Andrew Miller during the ’17 postseason, the concept here is the top reliever would face the more difficult part of the batting order even if it’s in the eighth inning. So, who are the best hurlers in the relief corps? Hector Neris and Joaquin Benoit.

FOOD FOR THOUGHT:    

“The game of baseball between pitcher and hitter sets up like a game of chess in that you have to anticipate several moves ahead to set up your opponent.” – Brad Lidge

Is Confidence the Biggest Component Fueling Rodriguez’ Success? Photo by Aaron Doster – USA TODAY Sports.

In reverse order of effectiveness, Jeanmar Gomez – aka Gumby – has dropped from ninth-inning fireman to the forgotten man. He, barring temporary replacements, is the last of seven relievers in a decent pen and will eventually increase his value. That said, the hurler must build on his last appearance instead of alternating. To be more specific, Gumby tossed a clean frame in his second chance, struggled in the second inning of his fourth outing, and was the victim of sloppy play behind him in his sixth appearance. Fortunately, his seventh opportunity wasn’t a blowout, and he retired the side in order against the Los Angeles Dodgers on Friday night. Ergo, the right direction.

During his last six outings, Edubray Ramos has struggled. For instance, he has allowed six earned runs in 4 2/3 innings for an 11.57 ERA. Overall, he has one hold, one blown save and one blown hold and has yet to pitch before the seventh this campaign. Hello! Maybe he needs some sixth-inning work to find his early April mojo.

Barring any other tricky rules, Luis Garcia has used his three options and would have to pass through waivers to return to the Triple-A Lehigh Valley IronPigs. And even though he has had difficulty in previous seasons, he has added a splitter to his high-90s fastball. Unfortunately his first opportunity to record one out with inherited runners was unsuccessful; they both scored.

Pitching:

  • Garcia: 5 Gms., 4 1/3 Inn., a 0.00 ERA and 1 Hold.

IN OTHER WORDS:    

“That’s all baseball is, is numbers; it’s run by numbers, averages, percentage and odds. Managers make their decisions based on the numbers.” – Rollie Fingers

Neshek Confuses Hitters with His Unorthodox Delivery. Photo by John Geliebter – USA TODAY Sports.

If you ask what trade pickup during the rebuilding has been the biggest surprise, Joely Rodriguez would be in the conversation. He has thrived as a reliever and is working his way to the back of the bullpen because he’s had seven consecutive solid outings. In fact, he’s more than a lefty specialist, and he could get the call in the eighth with a one-run lead to face three tough hitters including two left-side bats. To date, he’s proven himself in the sixth and seventh frames, and he’s already notched one in eighth inning.

Pitching:

  • Garcia: 4 Gms., 4 Inn., a 0.00 ERA and 1 Hold.
  • Rodriquez: Last 7 Gms., 6 2/3 Inn., a 0.00 ERA and 3 Holds.
  • Neshek: 9 Gms., 7 2/3 Inn., a 0.00 ERA and 4 Holds.
  • Benoit: 11 Gms., 10 2/3 Inn., a 2.53 ERA, 1 Save, 1 BS and 4 Holds.

Without Pat Neshek‘s delivery to scramble the hitter’s thinking, the Philadelphia Phillies’ pen wouldn’t be different from most MLB relief corps. In fact, he’s yet to allow a run during his nine performances, and he’s made four appearances in both the seventh and eighth frames. He’s “money”!

When they say he’s pumpin’ gas, they don’t mean he’s filling an empty tank; they’re saying he’s emptying it. Currently, Benoit has a 2.53 ERA for 11 performances and can deliver in the ninth as well. The ageless wonder handled the tougher part of the Miami Marlins’ order on April 27, but Neris didn’t have it much easier.

Neris Displays the Look of Victory. Photo by Eric Hartline – USA TODAY Sports.

Despite some recent adventures in the ninth, Neris has picked up three saves and three holds with a 2.19 ERA and is relishing the closer’s role. But will Neris pitch against the more offensive part of the lineups for Los Angeles (NL), the Chicago Cubs and the Washington Nationals if the three toughest outs are in the eighth? That stated, Neris will only have the three outs in the ninth if Mackanin prefers instead to hear the “Eye of the Tiger” entrance music at the Bank.

Pitching:

  • Benoit: 11 Gms., 10 2/3 Inn., a 2.53 ERA, 1 Save, 1 BS and 4 Holds.
  • Neris: 12 Gms., 12 1/3 Inn., a 2.19 ERA, 3 Saves and 3 Holds.

While the team is on the road, one thing won’t change: the interactions of Maikel Franco and Neris. Last summer, Franco tapped his glove on the setup man’s head after successful outings in close games, and this ritual has continued and recently escalated this April. Apparently, they needle each other to produce, and they demonstrate these actions after special performances.

The recent events:

  • April 20: Neris whacked Franco’s head with his glove during the celebratory beating after a walk-off single.
  • April 26: Franco pointed to Neris in the bullpen after his grand slam.
  • April 27: Neris recorded a save, and Franco smacked the back of the closer’s head during the congratulatory line toward the dugout.

Friends Neris and Franco have struggled in important roles. But while friendly competition exists between starters, relievers and regulars, this is different. What is so unusual about this competition? A slugger versus a closer.

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