The season started off with a bang, a 14-10 victory over the Texas Rangers. It raised optimism about a team that many considered would be one of the worst in baseball. However, the team went on two lose the next two very winnable games to start the season 1-2. This team should be 3-0, but thanks to bullpen problems they head into Chicago hoping to turn things around. The bullpen is not the only reason for these losses, but most of the blame rightfully falls on their shoulders.
After a 14-run explosion on opening day, the Philadelphia Phillies offense only managed to score 2 runs in their second game. It did provide a two-run lead for A.J. Burnett and the bullpen, but more insurance runs could have made the difference in the game. Last night the team scored three runs, and chased the Rangers’ starter by the sixth inning, more than enough runs to win the game based on how Kyle Kendrick and rookie Mario Hollands pitched in the first eight innings. Yes, it could be argued that more runs may have better secured the win, but the offense does not deserve the blame for yesterday’s loss. That blame falls on the shoulders of the biggest cause of concern in the bullpen, closer Jonathan Papelbon.
While Mario Hollands lost the game the night before, he is also a rookie who faced the top of the Rangers lineup in a tie game. He showed that he is able to bounce when he had a 1-2-3 eight inning last night. The game should have been over quickly in the ninth, as Papelbon has been one of the top closers in the league since his debut. However, there was plenty that was off for Papelbon last night. The closer’s velocity was down, topping off at 92 mph, a cause for concern considering that last season Papelbon experienced a decline in velocity, often throwing his fastball in the high 80s or low 90s, compared to his last year with the Boston Red Sox when he averaged 95 mph.
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What was even more troubling was that Papelbon seemingly had no control on his fastball. Catcher Carlos Ruiz often called for low fastballs, which would then end up high in the strike zone. This is what caused Papelbon imploding last night, when he walked in the winning run. Papelbon is the type of pitcher who relies on the velocity of his fastball, and without that velocity Papelbon has struggled. Even worse is when a fastball without the kind of velocity Papelbon used to have is left high in the strike zone, hitters will take advantage. Not only did this happen last night, but Papelbon nearly hit a batter on back to back pitches due to his lack of control. Considering how much he is being paid, the Phillies have no choice but to stick with Papelbon as their closer. The only way that Papelbon does not close for the team is if he is injured, and this could be the case.
After the game last night, former closer and CSN Philly post-game analyst Ricky Bottalico believed that something may be wrong with Papelbon. Bottalico pointed out that at times Papelbon was releasing his pitches at different times, sometimes even sidearm. He pointed out when a pitcher does this it is because something does not feel right. By the way that Bottalico described it, Papelbon could be experiencing discomfort in his throwing arm, which is not good for anyone. If this is truly the case, Papelbon needs to come forward and admit to an injury, otherwise, he is hurting his team.
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