Phillies left-hander Cole Hamels is off the disabled list and will make his season debut tonight against the Dodgers after sitting out the first three weeks with biceps tendinitis.
Hamels made three minor-league rehab starts to convince the Phillies he was ready to return, throwing a combined 17 innings with a 2.12 ERA and 12/1 K/BB ratio. That includes seven innings of one-run ball last time out.
To make room for Hamels on the roster the Phillies demoted reliever B.J. Rosenberg back to Triple-A after the right-hander allowed 10 of the last 15 batters he faced to reach base in a trio of ugly outings.
The Phillies had the fourth-highest bullpen ERA in baseball last season at 4.19, according to FanGraphs. Don’t tell that to closer Jonathan Papelbon, who thinks the Phillies will have a top-five bullpen in 2014.
Via CSN Philly’s Jim Salisbury:
“I will be very, very surprised if this is not a much better bullpen this year,” he said one recent day at Phillies camp.
Papelbon went a step further.
“I will be surprised if we’re not a top five bullpen in all of baseball. There’s way too much talent here. All we were waiting on was the experience and now these guys have it.”
Salisbury added that Papelbon is particularly encouraged by the development of lefty Jake Diekman and right-handers B.J. Rosenberg and Justin De Fratus. Rosenberg, who learned a splitter from Papelbon, has potential but walked 10.5 percent of batters last season. De Fratus walked 12 percent.
Diekman was the most impressive of the bunch last season, posting an overall 2.58 ERA. He really turned it on after July, posting a 1.64 ERA with 26 strikeouts and nine unintentional walks in 22 innings between the start of August and the end of the regular season.
Papelbon will play an important role in the success or failure of the Phillies’ bullpen. His results weren’t bad, but his strikeout rate declined from 34 and 32 percent in the previous two seasons to 22 percent, almost certainly a result of his average fastball velocity dropping from 95 MPH to 92 MPH. The right-hander, though, recently revealed that he battled a hip injury last season. If that was the cause, as opposed to the fact that he is in his mid-30’s, then his optimism may not be misplaced.
Expecting the Phillies’ bullpen to rank in the top-five in baseball may be a bit too strong, but top-ten wouldn’t be crazy. There is quite a lot of potential there.
The scene: Nationals trail the Phillies 5-4 in the bottom of the seventh. They had just scored three to get back in the game. Bryce Harper represents the tying run on third base. Wilson Ramos steps to the plate against Phillies reliever B.J. Rosenberg. He trails 1-2 in the count but has fouled off four tough pitches in the at-bat, waiting for his pitch.
Then this happens:
Who knows what would have happened if the correct call was made and the count evened out at 2-2. Instead, the Phillies escaped the inning by the skin of their teeth, then called on closer Jonathan Papelbon to finish out the game. The right-hander danced around a lead-off double to Ryan Zimmerman, wrapping up the 5-4 victory, bringing the Nationals’ seven-game winning streak to an unceremonious end. As the Reds won, the Nationals drop to six games behind the second NL Wild Card at 78-70.
The call wasn’t as bad as the one made in favor of Joe Nathan earlier this season, but it looks ugly because catcher Carlos Ruiz had to reach for it. When the ball was caught, Ruiz’s glove hit the dirt.