Today, the Philadelphia Phillies announced they have trimmed their spring bullpen down by reassigning righty pitchers Brian Sanches and Scott Elarton, as well as left-handed wünderkind Jake Diekman, back to minor league camp. This brings the number of arms in spring training down to 14, a number that includes the five starters and nine members of the pen. As it stands, the Phillies will have to drop two more players to fit in a standard seven-man bullpen.
Sanches, 33, did not have a great spring, throwing seven innings and allowing five runs on 12 hits. Elarton, 36, had a medicore spring, showed some roughness and ended with a 5.02 ERA in 14.1 innings. Thought to be a contender for the starting rotation, his presence on the MLB roster became somewhat obsolete once the Phillies quelled rumors about trading Joe Blanton, and his move was far less of a surprise than the assignment of 25-year-old Jake Diekman.
Diekman came into this year with rave reviews from skipper Charlie Manuel and pitching coach Rich Dubee, the latter who told Diekman to “Fire [his agent], because [Dubee will] jump on and be [Diekman’s] agent and hopefully be able to retire soon.” (via David Hale). Being one of the only lefties in the bullpen, his assignment leaves just Antonio Bastardo, Joe Savery and Raul Valdes as the only southpaws.
As mentioned previously, there are nine men fighting for seven bullpen spots. Closer Jonathan Papelbon, set-up man Chad Qualls, Jose Contreras, Kyle Kendrick and Bastardo have all essentially secured their spots for 2012, meaning there are still a pair of semi-open jobs. I say “semi-open” because David Herndon and Michael Stutes, who filled those roles in 2011, are still on the team and healthy. On the other hand, Stutes has had a terrible spring (13 hits and six earned runs in nine innings for an ERA of 5.79), continuing from a lackluster end to 2011 where he amassed a 4.43 ERA in the last two months of the season, and there are rumors he might not break camp with the big club. Herndon had a relatively good year in 2011, but is notorious for being shipped between Lehigh and Philadelphia.
Ideally, the Phillies would want to have two lefties in their bullpen. This bodes well for both first-baseman-turned-pitcher Savery and fellow non-roster invitee Valdes. Savery, who hadn’t given up a run in 5.1 innings before Sunday’s three-run outing against the Detroit Tigers, has impressed Dubee and put up good numbers (only six hits allowed and eight strikeouts). As for Valdes, his 2.08 ERA in 8.2 innings of work and sub-one WHIP has also spoken volumes.
The battle between Valdes and Savery/Stutes and Herndon will be an interesting one leading up to opening day. Right now, my money is on Valdes and Herndon to make the roster, with Stutes and Savery going back down to Lehigh Valley to start the year.