At a time when so many would-be playoff teams are struggling to come up with serviceable options in their starting rotations, the Philadelphia Phillies are dealing with an embarrassment of riches. Their four-man postseason rotation is set – Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee, Cole Hamels and Roy Oswalt, most likely in that order. It may be the best October rotation since the mid-1990s Atlanta Braves.
On almost any other team in baseball, Vance Worley, who carries an 11-2 record and 2.85 ERA into his start tonight against the Washington Nationals, would be starting Game 3 of the Division Series – if not Game 1 or Game 2. But for the Phillies, Worley, who turns 24 later this week, isn’t good enough (or perhaps more accurately, not accomplished enough, since his season numbers are better than Oswalt’s) to get a start at all. He will be heading to the bullpen after tonight’s start — an extra guy, a piece of inventory, a luxury item.
“As long as I’m on this staff,” Worley said Monday, “I don’t care what my role is.”
(For that matter, how many playoff teams would kill to have a Kyle Kendrick just sitting around? Kendrick, who is 8-6 with a 3.04 ERA this season as essentially the Phillies’ sixth starter, is also headed to the bullpen.)
But exactly how the Phillies plan to use Worley in the postseason is a big mystery. Out of his 103 professional appearances, since being drafted in the third round in 2008, only five have been out of the bullpen (all of them in the big leagues), but Phillies Manager Charlie Manuel on Monday said he believes Worley could handle any relief role the Phillies throw at him — long, middle or late-inning. But just to make sure, the Phillies plan to get him into a couple of games out of the bullpen in the season’s final week.
And here is where it gets interesting: The Phillies’ late-inning bullpen picture has become muddled in recent weeks. Right-hander Michael Stutes and lefty Antonio Bastardo — who have served as the top set-up men to closer Ryan Madson — have both struggled down the stretch (both have allowed nearly two baserunners per inning in September). Veteran Brad Lidge has pitched effectively since returning from a shoulder injury in July, but an extreme drop in his velocity (an average of 88.8 mph this year, versus 91.7 in 2010 and 93.6 in 2009) suggests he may not be a great option in late-inning, high-leverage situations.
In other words, there appears to be an opening in the Phillies’ bullpen for a shut-down, late-inning arm, and Worley might just be that guy. In effect, he could be the Phillies’ secret weapon in October — recalling Ramiro Mendoza for the late 1990s New York Yankees — pitching long relief in one game, then in a set-up role the next.
Given the talents of their starters, plus Madson in the ninth inning, the Phillies are only going to need three outs (if that) from the rest of their bullpen on most nights. But it wouldn’t be a surprise if, by the middle of October, those three outs have become largely the province of Worley.