In 2007, the Philadelphia Phillies were desperate to find someone to fill the vital role of left-handed reliever in the bullpen.
Matt Smith and Fabio Castro couldn't come close to finding the strike zone. After that, they tried rushing 24-year-old Mike Zagurski from Single A to the majors and, in 25 appearances, he posted a 5.91 ERA and 1.69 WHIP.
For a team to make it to the postseason for the first time in 14 seasons, they had to find someone to stabilize a shaky bullpen. That someone turned out to be JC Romero.
Romero was a situational lefty in Minnesota from 1999-2005. He was traded to the Los Angels Angels for Alexi Casilla after the 2005 season and then signed as a free agent with the Boston Red Sox after the 2006 season. Even though he had a 3.15 ERA in 23 appearances with the Red Sox, they released him in June and the Phillies quickly swooped him up.
Romero's transition to the National League was outstanding. For the remainder of the 2007 season, he posted a remarkable 1.24 ERA in 51 appearances and was a key part on the Phillies' first NL East title since 1993.
In 2008, Romero appeared in 81 games, posting a solid 2.75 ERA and he ended up winning two World Series games while not allowing a run in eight postseason games.
The quiet acquisition of Romero was key for the Phillies in winning the division from 2007-10. Last season, Antonio Bastardo surfaced as a left-hander manager Charlie Manuel could depend on to get crucial outs late in ballgames.
Bastardo is still holding up pretty well this season, but a new lefty has arrived basically out of nowhere and is now gaining Manuel's confidence.
Raul Valdes is no spring chicken. The Cuban defector was signed by the Chicago Cubs as a free agent in 2004 and has subsequently bounced around quite a bit. He reached the majors for the first time with the New York Mets in 2010, going 3-3 with a 4.91 ERA in 58.2 innings.
After the 2010 season, he signed with the St. Louis Cardinals and was pitching fine, but was placed on waivers in August. The New York Yankees claimed him and, in six games with them, he posted a 2.70 ERA.
Once again, he was granted free agency after the season and the Phillies signed him on November 10th.
Valdes was impressive in spring training, appearing in 10 games allowing opponents to hit just 1.89 and a sparking 0.88 WHIP. His 1.32 ERA in the spring was the best on the staff by anyone who pitched 10 or more innings. Raul was one of the final cuts and went down to Lehigh Valley. His most impressive stat at AAA was issuing just one walk in 21 innings of work.
Manuel loves being able to bring a guy in out of the pen who throws strikes. Valdes has been a strike machine.
The Phillies' 10-9 victory last night was an absolute roller-coaster of a game and even though he only pitched 2/3 of an inning, Valdes calmed things down. He faced two batters, striking out Cards prospect Matt Adams, and became the pitcher of record when the Phillies took the lead for good in the top of the sixth.
Since Valdes was recalled, he has pitched 5.1 innings, allowed just one hit, hasn't walked anyone and struck out seven.
The Phillies have some bullpen arms on the shelf right now, but when they regain their health, it will be extremely hard for GM Ruben Amaro Jr to send Valdes down. So far, he looks like JC Romero reincarnated and with better control.
The Phillies' 23-23 record can be seen as somewhat of a disappointment so far, but it's just one game off their World Championship season pace as they were 24-22 at this point in 2008.
To get back to the postseason, Valdes might be a key left-hander to calm the waters. Look for Manuel to call his number more and more as the season progresses.
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