Domino Effect Is Killing Pitching Staff, Phillies

Did you ever have one of those days - sometimes, they seem like weeks or months - where everything goes wrong? One calamity just leads to another and then another. You can't get one thing done, because something else isn't done and you can't get that done, because of a third thing that's not working. The Phillies have had one of those days over the past week or so and it's starting to show in the wild card standings.

In the early part of the season, everything was rolling along pretty well. The offense was missing in action, but the pitching was strong. The starters were pitching deep into games for the most part and the bullpen was getting just the right amount of work to allow them to shine. All we needed was for the offense to come around and we would have the juggernaut that we all looked for back in the snowy days of December and January.

Right now, it's all been jumbled. The offense has shown definite signs of life - even Pat Burrell is starting to pull out of his hibernation - and life on that side of the fence is not perfect, but it's not bad. Pitching though is another problem. It's been one bad thing after another.

Brandon Duckworth - a lot of the problems seem to start there - has a lot of talent, but has had somewhat of a lost season. He started the year on the DL and the Phillies now admit that they rushed him back. Then, because of days off and rain outs and this reason or that reason, he was skipped over in the rotation. That meant he didn't get to develop the strength needed to pitch deep into games. Once every five days or so, the bullpen was pushed into extended service. Now, his problems are continuing, but they've been compounded.

First, just the wear and tear on the bullpen is catching up to this group. It was bad enough with Duckworth struggling. In the past week or so though, even ace Kevin Millwood has struggled badly. Pitching the day after Duckworth went just over five innings, Millwood lasted just over three innings. That's a lot of work for the bullpen, considering that they were coming in to bail out the rest of the starters on the staff, too.

19 games in 18 days is rough enough. Then, Duckworth struggles, Millwood struggles and suddenly, the bullpen is pitching almost as many innings as the starters. Not a good scenario. As the bullpen has tired, they've been less effective and games have slipped away. Terry Adams lost Monday's game, but in all fairness, was pitching for the fourth straight game. That's a risky endeavor for most relievers.

As the relievers were overworked more and more, Larry Bowa needed to push his starters a little more. Monday's loss demonstrated that. Randy Wolf was pushed to try to get one more inning out of him and he wound up surrendering a leadoff homerun to Sean Casey that tied the ballgame. Ordinarily, Wolf would have exited after seven and the bullpen would have taken it from there. After all, remember earlier in the season when Bowa lifted Wolf early in a start, leaving all of us scratching our heads? Actually, Bowa has pulled Wolf on a couple of occasions this season where it looked like the left-hander could have worked deeper into the game.

It's all been a series of dominoes. No days off make a couple of starters tumble, which makes the bullpen wear down, which makes the manager push the starters, which results in a four game losing skid.

The remedy. A day off - which finally comes on Monday - or a complete game. Maybe even just a couple of back-to-back eight inning starts would get it done.

It doesn't get any easier. The Phillies are planning on having Carlos Silva start Saturday in one of the games of the double header, meaning he won't be available for bullpen duty and also meaning that the bullpen can plan on getting pretty much work in that game. The Phillies thought about sneaking Duckworth down to AAA for a start after he pitches Thursday against the Dodgers and bringing up Ryan Madson from Scranton to start in the double header, but that plan was nixed. The fear was that Madson would throw a gem and start a Duckworth or Madson controversy that wouldn't be good for either young pitcher.

We can only hope that somewhere along the line, the gap between those black rectangles with the white dots widens. Eventually, the space will grow too large and the dominoes will stop.

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