Alright, Phillies fans, it’s time to give credit where credit is due to the Phillies’ bullpen. Despite a historically atrocious track record, the bullpen appears to have found its footing following an incredibly successful series against the San Diego Padres.
The bullpen kept a potent Padres’ offense, which currently owns the ninth-most runs scored in Major League Baseball, scoreless through the duration of the four-game series.
The Series Story
Phillies Bullpen Secures a Thursday Victory
Ranger Suarez pitched a gem in the series opener on Thursday for the Phillies, going 7.1 innings while allowing two runs. Seranthony Dominguez entered the game in the bottom of the eighth with one out and two inherited runners in scoring position.
Dominguez forced a groundout to former Phillie Jorge Alfaro, scoring Trent Grisham before striking out Eric Hosmer to end the inning. Brad Hand then came in to finish the game in the bottom of the ninth, working three easy outs.
Bullpen Shines as the Offense Blunders
Friday found the Phillies in a position to utilize even less of their bullpen as Aaron Nola threw a seven-inning, 10 strikeout performance, allowing only one run to cross the plate. Unfortunately, on a night that found the Phillies’ offense completely flat, that one run was sufficient as the Padres claimed a 1-0 victory. Jose Alvarado pitched the bottom of the eighth inning in relief for the Phillies, striking out the side against the meat of the Padres’ lineup in Jake Cronenworth, Luke Voit, and Hosmer.
Suarez and Nola each pitching seven-plus innings in back-to-back starts allowed the bullpen to remain rested, having only needed to use three pitchers over 2.2 innings across two days. Which is good, because the Phillies would end up relying heavily on the bullpen for the remainder of the weekend.
Phillies Rebound on Saturday
Zach Eflin pitched a good rebound outing following his struggles last Sunday, throwing five innings of two-run work on Saturday. Following the Bryce Harper injury, the Phillies’ offense ignited over the fifth and sixth innings, leaving Eflin with a 4-2 lead as he handed the ball off to the bullpen.
At this point in the game, all it would have taken is one bad inning from the bullpen for the game to get away from the Phillies. Down Harper, morale would have already been low in the dugout. Had the Phillies lost the lead after the bullpen came in, we would likely be telling a very different story right now.
Instead, San Diego-native Andrew Bellatti pitched a shutdown inning in the bottom of the sixth, striking out the side in the process. Corey Knebel and Hand then came in to pitch scoreless innings in the seventh and eighth before Dominguez closed the door in the ninth with his second save of the season.
Phillies Bullpen Spearheads the Series Victory on Sunday
Sunday’s series finale would rest on the bullpen as Kyle Gibson pitched his shortest outing of the season. Gibby could not make it through the third inning, allowing five runs in only 2.2 innings of work. Nick Nelson then locked down the Padres’ momentum, pitching 3.1 shutout innings as the Phillies rallied back to a 6-5 advantage going into the bottom of the seventh.
Now owning the lead, the Phillies turned to Knebel and Alvarado to pitch the seventh and eighth innings. The only blemish came in the bottom of the eighth when Hosmer hit a leadoff double off Alvarado, the first base runner allowed by the bullpen the entire series. Bellatti then entered in the bottom of the ninth, earning the 30-year old’s first career save.
All in all, the Phillies’ bullpen combined to pitch 13 shutout innings against the Padres, striking out 13 batters while allowing only one hit. Dominguez and Bellatti each picked up saves while Bellatti, Hand, Knebel, and Alvarado combined for five holds and Nelson earned a win.
Phillies Stand-Out: Andrew Bellatti
Andrew Bellatti appears to have come into his own as a reliever as of late. His three-strikeout shutdown inning on Saturday shut down any momentum the Padres had. Then, on Sunday, he records his first career save to secure a 3-1 series victory on the road.
Bellatti has not had an easy path over his career. Drafted out of high school by the Tampa Bay Rays in 2009, Bellatti was involved in a fatal car crash in 2010 that could have resulted in a long prison sentence for the then 19-year old.
Five years later, in 2015, Bellatti appeared in 17 games for the Rays, owning a 2.31 ERA. He was relegated to the Minor Leagues before the beginning of the 2016 season, where he would bounce around between clubs for the next several years before earning another chance with the Miami Marlins in 2021. Bellatti only pitched 3.1 innings for the Marlins last season, allowing five runs on six hits before being demoted, electing free agency following the season.
Bellatti signed a minor league contract with the Phillies entering 2022, eventually being called up on April 14th.
This season, Bellatti has pitched to a 3.42 ERa over the course of 23.2 innings across 27 outings. Bellatti is in the top 4% of the league in K% having struck out 35 batters. A three-pitch hurler, Bellatti primarily uses his slider, which typically sits at 86 MPH while he also uses his four-seam fastball (94 MPH) and occasionally adds in an 89 MPH changeup.
In 7.1 innings during the month of June, Bellatti has allowed two earned runs on five hits, walking two batters and striking out 12.
The bullpen the Phillies have shown over the past few days is the best the bullpen has looked in years. Clearly, the reality of the bullpen is not one of an elite bullpen, but the Phillies have shown that the potential is there.
As a pitching staff, the Phillies have combined for a 3.49 ERA on the month, the eighth best in the Majors, with the bullpen touting a 3.65 ERA, 13th best among bullpens. Overall, the bullpen currently owns a 4.05 ERA, placing them at 19th on the year.
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Digging a little deeper, however, the indicators are there that the bullpen will continue to trend toward improvement. While the bullpen will have its highs and lows from here on out, if the overall trend is in the right direction (in addition to one or two trade deadline acquisitions) then the Phillies’ bullpen just might stabilize in time for a potential playoff run.
The bullpen will now enter Tuesday’s series opener against the Atlanta Braves on a 16.2-inning scoreless streak.
How long will the streak continue? Who knows? So let’s enjoy the ride while it’s going.
Photo Credit: AP Photo/Derrick Tuskan