Relievers like Scott Mathieson, Mike Zagurski and Antonio Bastardo have been knocking on the door to the Majors forever and will likely earn a chance to make an impression with the big club when rosters expand next week.
It’s funny how the Phils have developed a crop of lights-out minor league relievers who either haven’t made it work in the Majors (Bastardo) or haven’t convinced the front office that they have the tools to hang in the show (Mathieson). Incidentally, the Phils hired Bruce Sutter as a pitching consultant with the primary purpose of tutoring reliever Scott Mathieson on the art of throwing a splitter, according to CSNPhilly’s Jim Salisbury.
The good news for the Phillies, as September looms, is that most of their high-minor relief prospects have pitched well. Mathieson has converted 24 saves while striking out 78 in 58 1-3 innings. Aside from a four-run clubbing on Aug. 14, Bastardo has been sharp, Zagurski, too, but to a lesser extent. Meanwhile, forgotten lefty Sergio Escalona is having his best month with Double-A Reading. All of the pitchers mentioned above are included on the 40-man roster, as are right-handers Drew Carpenter and Vance Worley, who could be invited to fill a swing role over the final month.
The Phillies never call up very man relievers no matter how thin they are at the time. Clubhouse continuity and familiarity rule, so expect to see the John Mayberrys and Greg Dobbses and Paul Hoovers of the world. Certainly, they’ll carry the lefty with the hottest hand, likely Bastardo, and they’ll typically reserve a locker for the best starter available on the 40-man; last season it was Kyle Kendrick, who actually won three games in September filling an emergency role.
They have some wiggle room on the 40-man, which stands at 38, and they pulled a couple of surprises earlier this season, Worley being one of them. So why not have fun and mention a few darkhorses? Right-hander Justin De Fratus has been terrific at Reading and recorded his fifth save last night. He’s got a 23/3 K/BB ratio in 20 1-3 innings and can go multiple frames. He actually appeared in a spring training game late in camp and flashed a good, live arm. Lehigh Valley’s Michael Schwimer classifies as another darkhorse; he’s 2-2 with a 1.35 ERA in 16 relief appearances with Lehigh Valley. And is there a chance for Brandon Duckworth to take his second tour with the Phils? He's stretched out to start and has experience and versatility on his side.