Ken Giles struck out 29 of the 57 batters he faced in the Eastern League in 2014. There was no question that his promotion was warranted, and no question that the Lehigh Valley bullpen was prepared for the right-hander’s talented arm to join them.
It did, naturally, leave a bit of a hole in the relief corps in Reading. It’s been a week since Giles’ promotion to the Pigs, and the Reading bullpen has had a few games to sort out what life is like without the hard-throwing Giles. (The pen also lost Kyle Simon, who was promoted to Lehigh Valley along with Giles.) So, what’s left in the bullpen for the Fightins? Will we see other promotions sometime soon? Should we expect to see any of them with the big club this year?
The bullpen has been relatively erratic as well. It’s the pressing issue right now for the organization top to bottom: hitters aren’t taking enough walks, and pitchers are giving up far too many of them.
With Giles gone, the closer job has been up for grabs. This past week, Nefi Ogando got the call for two of the games, while Tyler Knigge picked up a save on Wednesday. (The team was trying to avoid Ogando pitching three consecutive days.) Ogando came over last year from Boston in the John McDonald trade. It was a minor miracle the Phillies were able to get anything for McDonald, but Ogando has done little to truly stand out in his time in the minors.
That said, it looks like he’s getting the chance to close in Reading. He has allowed 13 hits in 16.1 innings this year, to go along with 13 strikeouts and five walks. Ogando is a fastball-slider guy, usually in the low 90s with the fastball and in the mid 80s with the slider. His problem in his minor league career has been control, and his strikeout rates have been less than impressive. That said, if he can at least display better control over the next few months, he’ll at least get some looks and possibly a promotion to Lehigh Valley.
With Ogando unavailable for a third consecutive game on Wednesday, Knigge was able to come on and pick up the save. Plenty of people remember the way Knigge dominated Clearwater in 2012 to earn his call-up to Reading mid-way through that season, but he followed that with a relatively average 2013. At the very least, his walk rate has dipped here in 2014, but his strikeout rate has plummeted from 7.54 last year to 4.94 this season. If he’s not missing bats, he won’t be seeing a call-up any time soon. Knigge would have to return to his 2012 numbers (9.07 K/9 at Clearwater, 9.12 in Reading) to be considered for a call-up.
From there, the rest of the bullpen is fighting for recognition. Hector Neris currently faces the same age problem as Ogando, as both guys will be 25 in June. Their move will have to be made right now. Neris has a 2.53 ERA in in seven games, the same number he had in seven games at Lehigh Valley before being sent down. (You can’t argue the consistency there.) Neris was sent down about three weeks ago to make room on the Lehigh roster for B.J. Rosenberg. Six of Neris’ seven appearances in AAA were scoreless, and five of his seven AA appearances have been scoreless. That being said, he’s walked seven batters in his seven appearances in Reading.
Colton Murray did get a call-up from Clearwater with the promotion of Giles, and he is probably the only other intriguing name currently in the Reading bullpen. Murray struck out 17 in 17.2 innings for Clearwater, and has made a couple of scoreless appearances thus far for the Fightins. If he can keep that strikeout rate that he had in Clearwater (8.66 K/9) while reducing the walk rate, there’s a chance that he’ll turn some heads. Velocity has always been the concern with Murray, but if he can locate his stuff, the confidence could grow.
Johnson has a 10.24 ERA in 12 games, but allowed nine earned runs in back-to-back appearances, so he should not be written off, but it hasn’t been peaches and cream for him thus far. O’Sullivan was acquired back in 2012 in the Joe Blanton trade to Los Angeles, and pitched well enough last year for Clearwater, but has a 1.65 WHIP in 2014. Wright has also struggled, and Demmin could just be here for a short cup of coffee, though that’s yet to be determined.
Losing Giles was obviously a major blow to the Reading bullpen, but he is a once in a blue moon type of guy that simply doesn’t come around often. Don’t expect to see any of these guys making any major noise for the big club this season, unless Ogando becomes an indispensable member of the team as a closer.
However, with the way the Phillies’ bullpen has pitched in recent memory, you never know. Luis Garcia got his chance based off a hot streak. Jeremy Horst came out of nowhere. Heck, Cesar Jimenez pitched in 19 games last season for the Phillies.
In a perfect world, the Phillies would have a dominant bullpen with plenty of coachable young talent that would be here for years to come, and some spots in AA and AAA could be used for a mish-mosh of guys hanging around and trying to extend their careers with some youth sprinkled in there.
Instead, the big club has major bullpen issues, and that can lead many to wonder what’s going on down on the farm. Despite the emergence of Giles, sadly, there is not a whole lot of excitement building in Reading when it comes to the bullpen. At this point, it’s a hope and a prayer that someone gets hot at the right time.