Bullpen becoming a big question mark

With injuries popping up in the Phillies bullpen, what was once thought to be a sturdy part of the roster is now filled with some holes. The final few pre-season games will tell the tale of who heads north.

Jose Contreras was a question mark coming into camp, because of elbow surgery that cut his 2011 season short. Antonio Bastardo and Michael Stutes were supposed to be sure things, but now, they're both questions that the Phillies need to answer as well.

First, for Contreras. He's pitching, but his arm strength isn't at 100%, so the Phillies are considering whether it may be prudent to start him on the DL so he can develop that arm strength and not have to rush his recovery. There's no doubt that Contreras is an important part of the bullpen, but it's likely going to be worth it to be cautious and give Contreras time to work in Florida's warm weather rather than subjecting him to the cooler temperatures of the north when his arm isn't at full strength. The Phillies have already decided to keep him in Clearwater when the Phillies head north Sunday and play their annual two-game on-deck series with Pittsburgh.

Bastardo has been a little puzzling. There are no reports of injuries, but his velocity is dragging even though his stats all look good (4.26 ERA, .174 average against, 0.95 WHIP). The questions surrounding Bastardo are big enough that the Phillies likely don't want to trust him as their only left-hander out of the pen. Even before they started to worry about the 26-year old, the Phillies were debating whether they needed another lefty reliever on the roster and that question is now key.

Bastardo will be the starting pitcher for the Phillies Friday in what is being termed a "bullpen game" and the Phillies may make more of a determination after that.

As for Stutes, he was pitching through what he thought was just some spring stiffness, but it's gotten bad enough that the Phillies have shut him down and announced that he might not start the season with the club. The Phillies head north Sunday night and Stutes will stay behind in Clearwater and pitch in a minor league game if he feels better and the Phillies would take it from there. As of now, they believe there's nothing really concerning about Stutes injury and the Phillies have not scheduled an MRI.

So, with the bad news out of the way, just how could the Phillies fill these spots?

As for a second left-hander, the Phillies still have Raul Valdes and Joe Savery in camp. Both have pitched well, with Valdes posting a 1.69 ERA and Savery lowering his ERA to 3.24 with a strong outing on Thursday, throwing a perfect inning against the Rays.

Savery, 26, is an organizational guy who has gone from being a starter to a reliever to a first baseman and then back to being a reliever.

Valdes, 34, has more major league experience, having pitched in the majors with the Mets, Cardinals and Yankees and posting a career 4.58 ERA.

It's worth noting that Savery is on the Phillies 40-man roster, while Valdes is not. Currently, the Phillies roster stands at 38, so while there is room, Valdes could be a victim of a numbers game.

Of the pitchers still left in camp, Justin De Fratus is well behind schedule and could likely start the year on the DL, taking him out of the running for a bullpen spot. Kyle Kendrick, Chad Qualls and Jonathan Papelbon are locks as would be Contreras, Bastardo and Stutes if they're healthy. That would leave at most, one open spot at best, but the injuries throw that into question.

David Herndon has pitched well this spring and will make the club if there is anything open or if there are injuries to fill.

After that though is where it gets dicey.

The Phillies could use Joe Blanton out of the bullpen to start the year, since they won't really need a fifth starter until April 15. If Bastardo can't go, or if the Phillies figure they can carry three lefties, both Savery and Valdes could make the club, but after that option, they would have to look at some pitchers that they've already sent out.

Michael Schwimer would likely be the first option since he has at least a little major league experience and pitched well this spring. David Purcey pitched well this spring and could be another option for the Phillies, but like Valdes, he would also have to be added to the roster.

Finding a reliever on the waiver wire is also a possibility and the Phillies will keep an eye on that leading up to the start of the season.

In a perfect world, Bastardo's velocity will correct itself, Stutes will lose the stiffness in his shoulder and Contreras will be at 100-percent very soon. Of course, in the Phillies world, injury issues rarely turn out perfectly.

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