As the saying goes in football, defense wins championships. In baseball, while playing quality defense is obviously important, you’re only as good as your bullpen will take you. Gone are the days where the Phillies need to rely on the likes of Chad Durbin, Raul Valdes, Chad Qualls and the other journeyman relievers that the team has paraded out to the mound to hold down leads in recent years. It continues to be said, but we’re entering a new era of Phillies baseball and some of those relievers that we have all witnessed over the last two go through their growing pains, are finally giving us a reason to watch in 2015.
First things first. Let’s start by taking incumbent closer Jonathan Papelbon out of this equation. One way or another, whether that be physically or mentally, Papelbon won’t be on this team in 2015.
What are we left with? Justin De Fratus is a reliable, 27-year old righty who boasts a low-90’s fastball, plus slider and changeup that has been used sparingly. While De Fratus won’t blow batters away with strikeouts, he does manage to get batters out, an asset in the later innings that relievers in recent years have seemed to struggle with. With two full seasons now under his belt, De Fratus can expect to be called upon as a stopgap in a 7th inning role.
With Antonio Bastardo being dealt this offseason to Pittsburgh, the obligatory southpaw role will be filled by Jake Diekman and Mario Hollands. Both have similar pitching arsenals with a low to mid-90’s fastball, a slider and a seldom used changeup. Hollands also has a cutter that he will add to the mix from time to time. Diekman may end up being one of the elder statesmen in the bullpen next season at just 28 years of age. The former 30th round pick and three year veteran was at one point deemed the closer in waiting, but after having some control issues was kept in in a middle relief role. With Bastardo out of the picture now, Diekman will likely be shifted into a set-up role for 2015, with a few opportunities to close out games. Regardless of their roles, both pitchers should bring some excitement to the team.
There are a few spots that have yet to be finalized and will be decided by spring training performance, but one spot that definitely will be filled is by future Phillies closer Ken Giles. The former 2011 7th round pick, really came into his own in 2014, mowing down batters at both the AA and AAA levels before being promoted to the big league club in June. Across all three levels, Giles had 102 strikeouts in just 74 1/3 innings. The right-hander uses a fastball/slider combo that may remind many fans of former Phillies closer Brad Lidge. Unlike Lidge however, Giles touches the upper 90’s on the radar gun with his fastball and in turn gives the fans a reason to get on their feet this summer at Citizens Bank Park.