Ryan Howard's circus act home runs, including a tape-measure shot to dead center, led the Phillies over the Marlins 4-2. The victory also represented the team’s first start-to-finish home win, giving fans their first taste of nine controlled innings.
Sad as it sounds, yesterday's 4-2 win over the sub $15 million Marlins was the most complete home win of the season. The other two wins were walk-off nail biters.
Even with the ejections to Chase Utley and Charlie Manuel, this was the first time a game went according to plan, home or away. It included a nice, lengthy start from Brett Myers (6 IP, 2 ER, 3.04 ERA), and a significant look how the Phillies intend to use their bullpen. Ryan Franklin will work the seventh, Arthur Rhodes the eighth and Tom Gordon will close the door.
Manuel’s strict bullpen roles are often criticized for being too inflexible, but I’ve always believed relievers perform better when they know how they’re going to be used. Players have said the same.
Franklin, Rhodes and Gordon will become this year’s troika, occupied by Ryan Madson, Ugueth Urbina and Billy Wagner last season. When the calendar flipped to September, many experts thought the Phillies had the inside track to October because the back end of their bullpen was so strong.
Reserving these pitchers for situations like yesterday should have a positive impact on the rest of the bullpen, as Aaron Fultz, Geoff Geary, Rheal Cormier and Julio Santana will also settle into their roles. Fultz and Geary often worked in tandem last season and came away with career years.
Bullpen inconsistency, like the win/loss column, is another destructive side effect of weak starting pitching. This was a good first step in the right direction.
Yesterday was also a return to the time-honored tradition of playing the bench during a Sunday day game, and as it often happens, they won the game. Abraham Nunez and David Dellucci got the start at third and left field respectively, with Nunez sliding to second after Chase Utley was tossed.
For the season, the bench is a combined 13-for-83 (.156), including 22 strikeouts. Dellucci has been the biggest disappointment, going 0-3 with a strikeout yesterday to go 2-for-18 on the season.
So far, Dellucci has contributed next to nothing statistically, save for two very important additions: the ability for Manuel to rest Pat Burrell and Bobby Abreu, and great insurance in case one of them goes down.
At the end of spring training, the Phillies realized they were an outfielder short, and a left-handed bat short. Chris Roberson was the only candidate, but he wasn’t ready. Dellucci’s slow start shouldn’t come as a shock, considering he was ripped from a starting role from Texas just two days before the season.
Meanwhile, Nunez reminds me a little of Placido Polanco in that he likes to put the ball in play. Polly is more successful at it, but Nunez is a player of that same mold. In the few opportunities I’ve seen him, he looks to be a competent fielder.
Give it some time. Like bullpen, the bench will settle in.