When three bullpen hopefuls left Clearwater near the end of March, Jake Diekman of the Philadelphia Phillies never realized that quick demotions were ahead for the other two relievers. However, getting another chance in Philly is Justin De Fratus, while BJ Rosenberg returned to Triple-A Lehigh Valley after a month on the seven-day disabled list in the minors.
Please, scroll down for this edition of Genuine Insight: Farming for Relief.
This article represents the thinking of a baseball man in my opinion. Reading people is the answer to their decisions: past, present and future. Also, there is a humanizing element.
Barring reviews submitted to sites with a larger readership, there will be a published storyline each week. This review is an additional and updated posting. The Update is at the end.
Farming for Relief:
If good luck favors Ruben Amaro Jr., will he deserve any credit?
Firstly, a review of baseball’s obstacle course has shown that many elements have influenced the outcome of a season. It’s more than a beneficial roll of the dice. For instance, old school is the foundation that supports every new way to statistically measure the success or failure of the pros. The primary example in the first part of this article is throwing strikes on the way to the highest level and understanding the degree of difficulty once there. (If you want the next section immediately, scroll down to the second half: On the Edge.)
When he was the Phillies manager, Charlie Manuel once stated that 40 percent of the game is luck. Of course, that was before the new instant-replay rules.
The road from signing a contract to Double-A is a dead end for three of every six prospects. (Only one makes the MLB.) At Double-A Reading, the pitchers hurl strikes 40 percent of the time. However, the major league number is 70 percent for any role.
But what is a good strike? Basically, it means firing half of the ball over either edge of the plate or the entire ball over one of the four corners of the dish. Don’t confuse that with throwing strikes over the heart of the plate. Picture standing 60 feet away from a wall with a cantaloupe-sized hole, throwing downhill, and hurling the baseball through that opening. And they have to do that repeatedly with their pitching motion. In other words, they cannot aim the ball.
Those that make the show have varying degrees of success. Of that bunch, the best are starters from ace to five-slot arm, closers are next, setup men follow that, and middle relievers fill out the pitching staff. Basically, that means the number of innings to put up zeros or the pressure late in the game: The ninth frame in June is not the same as the seventh inning in September for a strong contending team. With this process, the difficulty of the role determines the pecking order and the financial rewards.
Many external factors are just as important. In no way, discount them.
The elements for a new hurler:
- Working in front of 20,000 fans or more who can applaud or boo.
- Letting his teammates down.
- Knowing the manager who decides his fate is watching his every move.
- For some, their dream is on the line with every appearance.
- Competing for the few available jobs at the top of an organizational depth chart.
- Dreading a trip back to the minors.
- Not knowing if he’ll get another chance.
- Half of what he learns is from trial and error.
- Entering the game, he has to channel his adrenaline rush.
- He has to block out negative thoughts during his outing.
- He also has to manage his emotions on each adventure.
On the Edge:
In this section, the review covers major league methods of handling the bullpen and the relievers with the best shot at producing for the red pinstripes in a month or so. Those players are Brad Lincoln, Ethan Martin, BJ Rosenberg and Ken Giles. However, if Miguel Alfredo Gonzalez is ready, he could compete with Roberto Hernandez for the bottom spot in the rotation or could be in the pen.
Many organizations employ similar techniques for upcoming talent. However, only a few franchises overachieve, a few underachieve, and everyone else is in the middle. But the Cardinals on the surface–thanks to former pitching coach Dave Duncan–appear to know the answers to questions that baffle the Phils. On the other hand, St. Louis–producing hammers every summer–had Fernando Salas in 2011 (2.20 ERA, 24 saves), Jason Motte in 2012 (2.75 ERA, 42 saves), Mitchell Boggs in ’12 (2.21 ERA), and Edward Mojica in 2013 (2.78 ERA, 37 saves). That stated, only Motte is still with the club because he had been on the disabled list for over a year.
- Putting an inexperienced reliever or a setup man in the ninth frame (Diekman).
- Having starters learn in the relief corps during their early days in the major leagues.
- Immediately sending the best pen arms back to Triple-A if they struggle (De Fratus, Rosenberg and Lincoln).
On the Phils, many possibilities are in the mix for two or three openings, depending on the luxury of having a third southpaw: Mario Hollands. Here are some. Lincoln and Rosenberg, for example, are at Triple-A until they improve their secondary pitches and fix their control issues. On the other hand, Martin may spend only a month with the IronPigs before getting the call. And even Gonzalez could emerge as the right-handed reliever the team seeks.
If you had to choose from Phillippe Aumont, Cesar Jimenez, Lincoln or Rosenberg, which two would you carry? Aumont and Jimenez are place holders and won’t work in most critical situations. The two demoted hurlers aren’t at Lehigh Valley because Aumont and Jimenez are better. Hopefully, when Amaro needs a bullpen piece for the stretch drive, one or two at Triple-A will have proven to be of value to the parent club.
How are they doing now? According to John Finger of CSNPhilly.com, De Fratus had problems with his mechanics but was now ready to shine.
Possibilities for Relief:
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Of the three arms sent down to Lehigh Valley, De Fratus had a solid record until he struggled in his final three outings before his injury-replacement call-up: His ERA ballooned from 2.05 to 4.50 after May 14. With mostly four-inning performances, Lincoln is getting the frames needed to be a long man. Meanwhile, Rosenberg suffered a line drive to the head during the 11th inning on April 28 and returned from the DL on May 25.
Two others to watch are Martin and Ken Giles. Management wants Martin to be comfortable as a reliever first, which could take until mid-June. On the other hand, Giles–who still has to harness his control–joined Lehigh Valley on May 9 and recorded his first save on May 20.
If things go according to Amaro’s plan, two or three of them will remedy the right-handed shortcoming in the pen before the trading deadline.
One Week After:
A lot can change after seven baseball days in Philly or Lehigh Valley. With this addition, the update covers the progress of the eight relievers competing for two or three spots. One slot currently belongs to Hollands, the third lefty in the relief corps. That stated, he hasn’t allowed a run against same-side hitters and has faced them in 42 percent of his outings through June 1.
De Fratus has notched five solid showings since returning. But two of those situations were low stress, and the other three were against a weak offensive opponent. On the other hand, he does not want to squander this unexpected opportunity, and that thinking may prove to be decisive.
Despite Friday’s report of a dead arm, Martin produced another solid performance two days later. He is putting up numbers for the IronPigs that meet the requirements for a call-up. If he doesn’t have diminished velocity due to arm fatigue and continues to succeed, he will claim one seat in the bullpen.
Giles with his 100-mph fastball is the fan’s choice for an immediate shot in the majors. However, if you look closely at his stats, you can see seven free passes to eight strikeouts during his 12 2/3 frames at Lehigh Valley, which does not get the job done at any level. And he won’t appear in red pinstripes until he overcomes this issue. On the other hand, when you eye his 15 innings for Reading, you can see Giles walked only five and punched out 29 before his promotion.
Lincoln and Rosenberg could still make some noise over the next two months. Lincoln, getting the frames but not the results, is working as an emergency starter and long man. On the other mound, Rosenberg just returned from the DL and had only one appearance, albeit a good one.
Lastly, the rest of the candidates are Aumont, Horst and Gonzalez. Aumont has a lack of command he isn’t solving. Meanwhile, if Horst passes through waivers, he can select free agency or return to the IronPigs. Gonzalez, however, is recovering from a dead arm after three starts at Single-A Clearwater.
At this point, De Fratus and Martin will solidify the pen with Hollands.
There will be a complementary piece to follow.
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