Ever since the Phillies signed Cliff Lee back in December, fans immediately began to come up with nicknames: "R2C2," "The Phab Phour," "The Four Aces," you name it.
As fans reflected on this signing more, many began to wonder whether it was worth utilizing the bullpen often, aside from the closer (Brad Lidge) and the setup men (Ryan Madson and Jose Contreras).
Originally, the question leaned towards the answer "no."
But after seeing the Phillies' first two games this season, could that answer change to yes?
On Opening Day, Roy Halladay was dominant as ever, pitching through six innings and striking out six, giving up only one run on five hits. His pitch count, however, was high—through those six innings, he had thrown 101 pitches.
For those of you that don't understand pitch count, think about this: Brett Myers, the opposing Astros' Opening Day starter, pitched just 85 pitches through seven innings of work. That's impressive.
Although Halladay claims this was due to batters fouling off many of his pitches, he says that he's confident that it was just a one-day thing and that he would have liked to pitch further into the game, though he understands the thinking behind pulling him after six innings.
After Halladay left the game, J.C. Romero, David Herndon, Ryan Madson and Danys Baez (who picked up the win) each contributed their pitching. The Phillies won 5-4 after a three-run rally in the bottom of the ninth inning, which was summed up by a walk-off single by John Mayberry, Jr.
Will the Phillies have to rely on bullpen performance despite their starting rotation?
In Game 2—Cliff Lee's 2011 Philadelphia debut—Lee was more dominant than Halladay was the day before, striking out 11 batters in seven innings of work. He allowed three runs—all hit by Carlos Lee—but those runs were allowed on just four hits.
After Lee left, Baez pitched in the eighth and Jose Contreras closed the game, though the 9-4 win was not a save situation for Contreras. Lee picked up the win, and opposing starter Wandy Rodriguez took the loss.
Although Lee was less dependent on the bullpen, neither Halladay nor Lee pitched more than seven innings. Many fans, however, assumed that they would consistently pitched for eight innings or more in almost, if not all of their starts.
Could this assumption be proved false?
If Halladay, Lee, Roy Oswalt (who starts against Bud Norris today to sum up the series) and Cole Hamels are unable to live up to this expectation of going deep in games, will the bullpen matter more than the fans originally thought?
Currently, their seven bullpen pitchers are Danys Baez, Antonio Bastardo, Jose Contreras, David Herndon, Kyle Kendrick, Ryan Madson and J.C. Romero. Herndon, a rookie last year, is on the roster due to starting closer Brad Lidge's shoulder injury, which landed him on the 15-day DL. It is currently unknown as to when Lidge is expected to return from the injury.
While the Phillies' pitching rotation is one to be reckoned with right now, they could be more dependent on the bullpen then many fans thought. Of course, if the offense can provide comfortable run support, as they did in Cliff Lee's start last night, then pitchers can be lifted earlier in games.
But if situations are more like they were last year, where the offense often failed to produce runs (like in Halladay's Opening Day start this year), the Phillies could be more reliant on the bullpen after all.
What do you think? Please share your thoughts.