LOS ANGELES – Twenty-one games into the season, the bullpen is clearly the weakness of this Phillies team. On Wednesday night, the club's relievers allowed three runs in the late innings as the Los Angeles Dodgers pulled away for a 5-2 win at Dodger Stadium (see Instant Replay).
The loss snapped the Phillies’ three-game winning streak on a night when Cole Hamels came off the disabled list and pitched quite well in a season debut that was shorter than he would have liked.
Manager Ryne Sandberg knows the bullpen is his team’s Achilles heel -- he’s already sent three relievers from the opening day roster to Triple A – but that didn’t stop him from taking the ball from Hamels after 86 pitches and assigning the task of keeping the game close to a leaky bullpen.
Sandberg pulled Hamels after six innings with the Phillies down, 2-1. He gave the ball to right-hander Jeff Manship, who a month ago was a non-roster spring-training invitee. Manship got two outs before allowing a double and triple as the Dodgers started to pull away in the seventh.
Mario Hollands, another pitcher who was not added to the big-league roster until the end of spring training, allowed two runs in the eighth as the Dodgers padded their lead.
Now, there were some very tangible reasons why the Phillies lost this game. First of all, Dodgers starter Zack Greinke was brilliant. He beat the Phils. He allowed just five hits and two runs over seven innings and struck out 11. Also, Hamels did not help himself in the fifth inning when he allowed a two-out hit to the No. 8 hitter, Drew Butera, and a walk to Greinke, setting up Yasiel Puig for an RBI single that gave the Dodgers a 2-1 lead.
But Sandberg’s early hook on Hamels and his trust in the majors’ worst bullpen -- 5.64 ERA -- certainly played a role in the loss.
Several times in the days leading up to Hamels' start, Sandberg mentioned that there were “no restrictions” on the left-hander. Hamels, who needed extra time to build arm strength after an offseason bout of shoulder tendinitis, had built his pitch count to 95 in the minors and believed he could have gone to 105 pitches in his regular-season debut.
Hamels appeared mystified and possibly a little miffed at the early hook. He admitted to being surprised that he didn’t go out for the seventh inning.
“I had plenty left in the tank,” Hamels said. “But I don’t make the decisions. I just have to go out there and pitch and try to be competitive and keep the team in the ballgame.
“They make the decision. They have a scheme, a plan of what they want to do and all I can do is go out there one pitch at a time and see how far I can go, how far they’ll let me.”
Hamels was not aware of any restrictions on his workload.
“No,” he said. “I’ve been good to go for the last month. I was able to go up to 100, 105. But that’s their decision and I have to abide by it.”
Hamels did some politicking to stay in the game -- “I guess as much as I’m allowed to,” he said -- but he couldn’t sway Sandberg.
“No, that was good for his first time out,” Sandberg said. "I thought he pitched very well and gave us a chance to win. He showed real good stuff. Eighty-six pitches and two runs. He did a nice job."
In the final analysis, it sure sounds like the pitcher who had no restrictions had some restrictions, after all.
“Well,” Sandberg said, “no restrictions, but also for the first time out, he did his job right there.”
Sandberg raised some eyebrows by not using right-hander Mike Adams against the right-handed meat of the Dodgers' order in the eighth. Instead, he used rookie lefty Hollands, who gave up two runs, one on a homer by Hanley Ramirez.
Adams never warmed up.
“Well, if we could have gotten through the seventh a little better that would have made a difference,” Sandberg said. “But in a minus situation, Hollands has had success against right-handers and left-handers and that was his job tonight.”
Despite the loss, Hamels' performance was a big positive. He allowed six hits over six innings, walked one and struck out five. His stuff was sharp and he clearly was economical with his pitches.
“It was good to see him out and there and great to see the way he threw the ball,” Sandberg said. “I thought he was outstanding for the first start of the year.”
The Phillies took the first two games against the Dodgers and are in position to win the series with a victory behind Kyle Kendrick on Thursday night.
“That’s what we shoot for now,” Sandberg said. “Kendrick has been throwing the ball well. That’s the goal. It would be a nice series for us.”