These guys are important.
In the baseball world, they now have a nickname.
To call someone a "LOOGY" may seem like an insult, but it has become a vital position to a team's bullpen this decade.
It stands for Lefty One Out GuY, a southpaw who comes into the game in the late innings, usually just for a batter or two.
He can be the ultimate bomb-defuser in the seventh or eighth inning, should David Ortiz, Ryan Howard, Carlos Delgado, or any other power-hitting left-handed hitter be lurking in the on-deck circle.
The Hardball Times has determined that a LOOGY is any pitcher with "at least 20 appearances, fewer than 1.20 innings per appearance, and fewer than 20 percent saves per appearance."
For the past season and change, Scott Eyre was the man who filled the role for the Phillies.
With just 30 innings pitched in his 42 appearances in 2009, Eyre certainly fit the criteria The Hardball Times called for.
He also did his job quite well, holding left-handed hitters to a .210/.269/.355 line against him.
Despite some deliberation, Eyre called it a career last month, leaving the Phillies with a void in the bullpen.
Six spots would seem to be cemented: Brad Lidge, Ryan Madson, Danys Baez, J.C. Romero, Jose Contreras, and Chad Durbin will all be there come April, assuming full health for all of them.
With one spot open, likely for that second lefty, the Phillies will have some open competition in Clearwater.
Immediately, three in-house candidates come to mind.
The 24-year-old Dominican-born Bastardo has had a quick rise through the Phillies' system since the team signed him as an amateur free agent in 2007.
He began to gain attention in the organization with a solid performance in Double-A Reading in 2008, when he started 14 games and posted a 3.76 ERA in 67 innings.
He allowed just 56 hits but struggled with his control at times, walking 39 batters in those 67 innings.
On the flip side, Bastardo did have 62 strikeouts, thanks to an above-average fastball that has good movement on it.
In 2009, the Phillies converted Bastardo to a reliever, only to quickly move him back into a starting role.
After posting an unbelievable 41:7 strikeout/walk ratio in Reading once again, he found himself in a position to catapult to the Major Leagues.
He did just that in early June, when the Phillies placed Brett Myers on the disabled list with a torn labrum.
Bastardo debuted for the Phillies in San Diego and held the Padres to just one run over six innings. Days later, he held the Dodgers to two runs over five innings in a Sunday night affair at Dodger Stadium.
He made six appearances (five starts) in total, with a 6.46 ERA in 23.2 innings pitched.
If Bastardo wants to make the team out of spring training, he will have to prove he can be at least a two-pitch pitcher.
He threw his fastball, which will likely sit around the 90-92 MPH range, 73.8 percent of the time in the majors in 2009, and batters quickly began to pick up on his approach.
He does have a decent slider, but he'll have to use it. He throws a change-up as well, but the Phillies will hope that he can at least throw the fastball and slider for strikes.
Bastardo will also have to work on keeping the ball in the yard, as his 0.44 groundball/fly ball rate won't help in Citizens Bank Park, let alone any park.
If there is one thing Bastardo has going for him heading into camp, it will be his spectacular performance in the Dominican Winter League.
He had a 1.50 ERA in seven innings of the regular season and then struck out 12 batters in the championship series for los Gigantes del Cibao.
For the number of times Escalona was sent up and down last season between the majors and minors, he likely became a cabbie's best friend.
Escalona, now 25 years of age, could write a book about all of the places he got a chance to see in 2009.
That is the life of a baseball player—here one day and gone the next.
Signed in 2004 as an amateur free agent, the Venezuelan, much like Bastardo, did his most impressive work in Double-A Reading last year.
Unlike Bastardo, however, Escalona had been exclusively working out of the bullpen since the beginning of 2008.
Last year, Escalona pitched 40.2 innings, allowing just 31 hits while posting a stellar 1.77 ERA.
Much like Bastardo, Escalona has the ability to strike guys out, getting 38 to fan in his work in Reading.
On May 17, Escalona earned a call-up to the majors and got credit for the victory in a game against Washington.
He pitched in 14 games for the Phillies, putting up a 4.61 ERA and 1.24 WHIP in 13.2 innings.
While there is only a small sample size in Escalona's work against left-handers, the early returns are certainly positive, with lefties going just 3-for-15 against Escalona in the Majors.
Escalona also relies heavily on his fastball and showed more polish on his secondary pitches than Bastardo.
Escalona's fastball will typically reach the 88-89 MPH range, but he locates it very well.
According to FanGraphs, his curveball was his most-used secondary pitch, as he threw it 17.1 percent of the time in the majors last year.
While those two pitches are described as plus pitches for Escalona, he is also working on a change-up to use against right-handers, which could give him an edge.
If there is one negative for Escalona heading into spring training, it will be his poor performance in the Venezuelan Winter League.
While pitching for Lara, Escalona's ERA ballooned to 10.80, and he walked 11 batters in 10 innings.
Zagurski is perhaps the forgotten piece in the bullpen shuffle.
However, it will be hard to overlook him.
The stocky 6'0", 225-pounder conquered nearly every Minor League obstacle in 2007, making his way to the majors when the Phillies desperately needed left-handed help.
Being forgotten is something Zagurski got used to in high school, when he went unscouted by just about everyone.
He moved on in his baseball career to Hutchinson Community College and eventually transferred to the University of Kansas, not exactly known as a baseball hotbed.
His numbers in college were unspectacular to say the least, but the Phillies saw enough in Zagurski to make him a 12th-round pick in the 2005 amateur draft.
In 2007, Zagurski's meteoric rise through the minors saw him dominate Single-A Clearwater and Double-A Reading.
Ironically enough, it was once again a Brett Myers injury that allowed a young pitcher to come to the majors.
Zagurski, who turned 27 last week, made his debut in Atlanta on May 25, 2007 and retired the Braves in order.
He went on to post a 5.91 ERA in 2007 but had his season cut short due to a torn hamstring. He also struggled to get right-handed batters out, limiting the Phillies' ability to use him in clutch situations.
However, lefties struggled against Zagurski, posting just a .502 OPS against him in 43 plate appearances.
Sadly, in the early part of the 2008 season, Zagurski, who was still recovering from the hamstring injury, felt a sharp pain when warming up for a spring training game.
He had Tommy John surgery days later and missed the entire 2008 season.
In 2009, Zagurski worked 48 games, 45 coming with Reading.
He pitched in 45 games for Reading, logging 53 innings, along with a stellar 10.7 K/9 ratio. His minor league K/9 average is 11.0, as Zagurski has made himself a prolific strikeout pitcher in the minors.
Zagurski's fastball is his best pitch, and it is in the 90-91 MPH range.
He also throws a sweeping slider, which has late break and sits in the lower 80s.
He will have to cut down on walks, as he allowed 11 of them in his 25 Major League innings in 2007. It was something he struggled with a bit last year, when he walked 27 in 53 innings in Reading.
If Zagurski can learn anything from teammate Scott Mathieson, it's that second chances are always possible.
Mathieson, who has been Zagurski's main workout partner this offseason, has had a pair of Tommy John surgeries but is well along in his recovery and also hoping for a spot in the Phillies' bullpen.
Now, it's up to Zagurski to grab a hold of a golden opportunity.
Of course, there's always the possibility that none of this works out the way the Phillies hope, and they take another course of action.
That would be unlikely, seeing that the team has spent plenty this offseason and is looking to save money in the bullpen with one of their young talents.
Ron Mahay, whom the Phillies have been linked to in past years, is available, as are Will Ohman, Joe Beimel, and Alan Embree.
Jamie Moyer, who worked out of the bullpen last year after being removed from the starting rotation, has an outside shot to have a job in relief.
The Phillies see the 47-year-old Moyer as their fifth starter should he be healthy come spring training.
Plus, a $6.5 million long reliever doesn't make fiscal sense, especially in this day and age.
If Moyer is healthy, he'll be a starter. If he struggles again this year in that role, he would likely be released.
With so much uncertainty regarding the final spot in the Phillies' bullpen, Bastardo, Escalona, and Zagurski are all hoping they find themselves on the Opening Day roster.
Hey, being a LOOGY isn't all that bad after all.
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