Bullpen Is Reloaded And Ready To Fire

The Phillies bullpen started off strong in 2003, but fizzled as the season matured. Quite frankly, Larry Bowa depended so much on his bullpen that he exposed just how weak the staff really was. Things were fine when they were all rested and had strongly defined roles. As the season wore on though, it all fell apart. This offseason, the Phillies have rebuilt their bullpen. Stalwarts like Billy Wagner and Tim Worrell are on board and that should help the Phillies progress in 2004.

The Phillies have combined some bold moves with a little luck to put together what should be a strong pitching staff for the 2004 season. The rotation is filled with strong, young pitchers who have all had some measure of success in the majors. Randy Wolf and Vicente Padilla have both progressed to the point where they are looked at as not developing pitchers, but pitchers who can dominate. Brett Myers, while young, matured a lot over the course of the 2003 season, primarily with the help of Kevin Millwood, whose return took the rotation from very good to great. Add in a healthy Eric Milton and the Phillies are set.

While the rotation has developed and been fine tuned, the bullpen was obliterated with just a couple of parts being deemed salvageable. Rheal Cormier, who has always had his best seasons under the watchful eye of Joe Kerrigan, was an easy decision for Ed Wade and the boys to make. Cormier was simply a master in 2003 and with left-handers always at a premium, bringing him back had to be a top priority and was. Basically, Cormier was the only full-season member of the pen that will return.

Terry Adams, who recently signed with Toronto, was solid. The Phillies thought long and hard about having Adams as part of their bullpen for 2004, but finally bowed out. Adams originally wanted a longer, higher priced contract than what the Phillies envisioned. The other concern was Adams' health. He broke down somewhat during 2003 and the Phillies have had their fill of fragile arms over the years. Coming into that same category is Turk Wendell. The Phillies loved what Wendell was able to give them, but his surgically repaired elbow seemed to be running out of gas, so he was also allowed to leave.

The first move was to secure a closer. Billy Wagner will give the Phillies one of the more dependable closers in the game. To get to Wagner, the Phillies quickly moved to sign Tim Worrell and then added Roberto Hernandez to the mix. With Cormier, Worrell, Hernandez and Wagner, the Phillies suddenly had a very strong start to assembling a substantial bullpen. The Phillies still have openings for two or possibly, three relievers, depending on how they shape the roster.

A lot will depend on health. David Coggin and Bud Smith are both working their way back from injuries. The road for both has been long, but the Phillies haven't given up on either pitcher. There are some concerns about whether their arms are built for the rigors of pitching out of the bullpen. The Phillies will be tempted to let both pitchers work out of the AAA starting rotation for the sake of saving some wear and tear on their arms and also just to give both pitchers the chance to show that they are truly healthy. Again, the Phillies seem to have left the days when they depended on fragile arms to fill a staff. Plus, there are other alternatives to stock the bullpen.

Veteran Amaury Telemaco will turn 30 before the start of spring training. Like Coggin and Smith will have to do, Telemaco worked his way back from an injury. The Phillies brought Telemaco to camp as a non-roster invitee last spring and he won a job at AAA where he surprised a lot of so called experts. Telemaco went 10-9, 3.24 with the Red Barons, starting 24 games and throwing three complete games. Between AAA and the majors, he worked 200.1 innings and seemed to have better stuff than he had at any point in his career. This winter, the Phillies didn't waste too much time getting Telemaco signed to a one-year deal and they figure on him as part of their bullpen as long as he doesn't have an unexpected meltdown when camp opens.

Eric Junge wore a path between Philadelphia and AAA Scranton Wilkes-Barre, but when he was with the big league club, he didn't get a lot of work. The Phillies need to look at Junge long and hard this spring. He's a 27 year old right-hander who has decent enough stuff to help the Phillies retooled relief corps. Josh Hancock didn't arrive until September, but showed some promise, as he did all season long at AAA Scranton. Hancock was 10-9, 3.86 as a starter for the Red Barons. Junge and Hancock are similar type pitchers and both will get their chance this spring, although both are also more used to working out of the rotation than the bullpen.

Ryan Madson is another young pitcher just waiting for a chance to show what he can do. Like Hancock, Madson came to the majors in September and didn't get much of a chance to pitch. Madson's only major league appearance came in the penultimate game of Veterans Stadium history when he faced six Atlanta Braves and put them all down in order. It was only two innings of work, but Madson seemed nearly unhittable. Here's the problem. Madson is one of the talented young starting studs that the Phillies have assembled. Do they put him in the bullpen at the major league level or let him work as a starter in Scranton. Again, spring will help to decide Madson's fate, but the Phillies may be better served to keep him at AAA to be sure his arm is stretched out and ready for major league starting assignments should any injuries hit the Phillies staff.

While Junge, Hancock and Madson are all young starters who will fight for a bullpen job in 2004, the Phillies also have a couple of young relievers who will fight for a spot with the big league club. Geoff Geary recorded minor league career highs in games (46) and saves (5) and also notched 9 wins for Scranton Wilkes-Barre. The Phillies brought him to the majors where he pitched 6 innings in 5 games with a 4.50 ERA. Geary will get a good look in the spring. Dan Giese and Jeremy Wedel have yet to reach the major league level, but both have strong AAA experience. Like Geary, both should get an opporunity to make the club out of spring training, but both are handicapped by the fact that they're not on the 40 man roster, meaning that the Phillies might have to clear space for to bring them north with the team.

Victor Alvarez, who came to the Phillies off waivers from the Dodgers this winter, is somewhat of an unknown. The 27 year old pitched 10.2 innings for LA in his debut season of 2002 and didn't look too bad, posting a 4.35 ERA with 7 strikeouts. In a short major league audition in 2003, Alvarez couldn't find the plate and went 0-1, 12.71 in 5.2 innings of work. The lefty has always had pretty decent AAA numbers, but with just 16 innings of work in the majors, it's hard to tell just what he can give a team. With a good spring, Alvarez can pitch his way onto the staff. He'll also be helped by the fact that he's left-handed and the Phillies may want to add another lefty to the pen.

So, where does all of this leave the bullpen? Cormier, Wagner, Worrell and Hernandez are obvious. Larry Bowa has said he's likely to go with an 11 man pitching staff, which would leave two openings. It's likely that he'll want another left-hander. Yes, Cormier and Wagner are both lefties, but we know that Wagner will be closing games and won't be in the mix to get out of jams earlier in ballgames. The Phillies will think long and hard about Bud Smith, but unless he has an amazing spring, they'll likely go with Victor Alvarez. Another possibility is to find another veteran lefty in a trade or on the waiver wire if neither Smith or Alvarez seem ready to help. Look for Alvarez to win the job this spring.

With a six man bullpen, the final spot would be a battle between Amaury Telemaco and Eric Junge. That may be the biggest battle of the spring and the toughest decision that Bowa will face when it comes time to cut down the roster. Keep in mind though that Bowa generally gives the nod to experience, giving Telemaco a big edge. Also keep in mind that in this day and age, a six man staff doesn't always work. Bowa loves to wave to the pen, so there may be room for Junge.

Geary, Wedel and Giese will likely return to AAA and give manager Marc Bombard the beginnings of a strong relief corps for the Red Barons. Smith and Coggin – if healthy – will be in the AAA starting rotation as will Madson. If either Telemaco or Junge don't make the major league team, they'll be starting for Scranton as well. It's likely that Hancock will be in Bombard's starting rotation when the season begins, but he could also wind up working out of relief if the rotation starts to get too crowded.

Bottom line is that the Phillies bullpen should be strong enough to stand the test of time and work in 2004. The 2003 bullpen was somewhat lucky in some respects. The 2004 pen should be more a matter of talent.

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