Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Bullpen Gives Up Homers to Give Up a Win

After nearly beating out Jamie Moyer for the final spot in the rotation, Kyle Kendrick has had a rough start to the season. This time, however it wasn't his fault. He pitched superbly - throwing eight shutout innings. Chase Utley had two RBI and Ryan Howard added a third, so when Ryan Madson came in to pitch the ninth inning, he was working with a three-run lead. That's exactly how many runs he gave up. With Chipper Jones on base, Troy Glaus hit a home run to make it 3-2, and Jason Heyward immediately followed with a home run to tie the game. Of course, the very next pitch to Yunel Escobar was a ground ball to Juan Castro at shortstop, but the damage had been done.

The top of the 10th inning looked like a great chance for the Phillies to do some damage, with the red-hot trio of Placido Polanco, Utley, and Howard coming to the plate, all of whom had hits earlier in the night. But Braves closer Billy Wagner made it a 1-2-3 inning. Either way the Phillies were going to have to go back to their bullpen, and so they went to Jose Contreras. Contreras made it a quick inning, though not in the same way as Wagner. Five pitches into facing Nate McLouth, McLouth launched a home run to right field, giving the Braves a 4-3 walk-off win.
What looked like a promising bullpen during the first few games of the year is beginning to show its cracks. On many of each pitcher's last appearance, they've given up multiple runs. Madson gave up 3 runs in his blown save last night, Danys Baez gave up three runs last time we saw him, David Herndon gave up four runs and nearly blew a six run lead last time we saw him, and Jose Contreras gave up the home run to end the game. The alarming thing isn't that the bullpen is giving up runs, it's that they're giving up multiple runs in a single inning. Perhaps this is just a passing phase, but if neither Madson nor Baez can be a reliable closer until Brad Lidge returns (and it's possible that Lidge won't fit the bill either), it could be a long season.

However, seeing Kyle Kendrick pitch as well as he did is very promising. As the bullpen appears to be on a bit of a decline, the rotation has actually pitched better recently. Halladay has pitched well all year, but Cole Hamels and Kendrick each threw at least eight innings in their last outing. Kendrick seems to be getting back to what it was that made him successful in his first couple years in the majors, when he simply got guys out by getting them to make poor contact. Roy Halladay apparently told Kendrick to be more aggressive after his last start, and that seemed to work for him. Now he needs the offense and the bullpen to back him up by doing the same.

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