The first four innings of Friday’s home opener could not have gone smoother. Ryan Howard hit two RBI singles. Domonic Brown and Erik Kratz crushed home runs. Kyle Kendrick cruised through 12 outs, allowing just one runner to reach scoring position. Kendrick even missed his first career homer by feet, hitting a ball off the very top of the wall in left for a long single. Ben Revere made a tremendous diving catch in center. Kratz hustled to snag a popup near the visiting dugout. Michael Young made plays at third. The crowd was roaring. The weather was beautiful. Times were good. The Phillies were on their way to .500.
Then the game turned into one we saw far too many times last season. Kendrick lost his mojo in the fifth and sixth, and the bullpen, rather than extinguish the flames, made things much worse. Jeremy Horst, Chad Durbin and Raul Valdes combined to allow 11 hits, two walks and eight runs in 3 1/3 innings.
The middle relief problems have been apparent from the start of the season. Horst, Durbin and Valdes have channeled their inner Chad Qualls, allowing 20 baserunners in seven innings this season. Maybe it’s because all three have middling stuff compared to the hard throwers in the Kansas City bullpen.
Sure, Horst and Valdes had success last season, but it was after the pressure of contending had faded. And those two had that success with fastballs that rarely topped the high-80s. When a reliever doesn’t throw hard or have at least one nasty secondary pitch, he needs pinpoint command or luck with his balls in play. Horst and Valdes had both in 2012. Just 21.4 percent of balls put into play against Valdes last season fell for hits, despite his career average to that point of over 31 percent.
Valdes is just getting blasted this year. He allowed five homers in the spring, one more in his two appearances this season, and has had several near-misses. One ball was absolutely crushed yesterday but knocked down by the wind. On a normal day it might have caromed hard off the brick wall past center field.
The Phils’ bullpen is improved with Mike Adams, but he can only be properly utilized when they have a lead. These other guys need to step up, and soon, or else they won’t be in Philadelphia much longer.