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May 10, 2017

Chooch delivers, Phillies bullpen blows up (again) and points finger at bosses afterward

The ERA stat for relief pitchers doesn’t tell you very much.

Because, as the Phillies’ bullpen was in the midst of getting blown up for the umpteenth time this season, a quick search for how their relievers stacked up this month revealed one surprising result: collectively, the bullpen entered Wednesday with a 2.48 ERA in May.

But a deeper dive brought the reality to surface.

The same relief corps had allowed 27 hits in 32 2/3 innings and had nearly as many walks (20) as strikeouts (22) in their first eight games this month. And on the season as a whole, the Phillies’ ‘pen ranked 12th in the NL in K/BB rate (2.11), 13th in opponents’ OPS (.775), and tied for 15th, as in last, in home runs allowed (21).

And all of those numbers were before Joaquin Benoit took over for Zach Eflin on Wednesday afternoon in South Philly, poured gasoline all over the 14-year-old ballpark, and watched as the Mariners set it afire in a disaster of an 11-6 defeat.

The loss was the 10th in the last 12 games for the reeling Phillies (13-19), who are a season-worst six games under .500.

"As I look at our bullpen, sure they're not pitching well as I think they're capable of pitching, but at the same time, you look around the league... even the Cubs are having trouble," manager Pete Mackanin said. "A lot of teams are having trouble in that area. We'll get through it. We're better than this."

"I can’t make an excuse," Benoit said. "It was my turn to go out there, I didn’t have it, so it’s tough. It happens."

But then Benoit made an excuse. After the latest bullpen blowup, the man who authored it had pretty pointed criticism for his bosses. Namely, he believes his unit would be performing better if they had set roles in the 'pen.

"I believe if we have a set role, everybody will fall in place," Benoit said. "Right now I think everyone is a different piece. Right now I believe that it would be better if everybody knows what their role is and when you’re going to contribute. If it’s the sixth, well, that person will throw the sixth. If it’s the ninth, that person is throwing the ninth."

Perhaps Benoit has a point, but it's also a bit of a chicken-before-the-egg type thing, too. Manager Pete Mackanin and pitching coach Bob McClure can set guys into places if they have success in those places.

Then again, Benoit is speaking from the experience of being the guy who pitched in the sixth inning on Opening Day and then being named the team's closer less than two weeks later. And now?

"Right now, I’m all over the place," he said. "It’s a little bit consistency, and not just the pitching staff but the people that run it, too."

But, again, isn't that on the relievers, too, helping the coaching staff set them into roles by performing with consistency?

"It works if you find a place for everybody," the 39-year-old Benoit said. "It works."

Mackanin turned to Benoit in the seventh inning on Wednesday because, he said, the veteran right-hander's numbers were superior to Pat Neshek's against left-handers, and Robinson Cano and Kyle Seager were due up for Seattle. Mackanin had Neshek in mind to pitch the eighth. Joely Rodriguez, the lone lefty in the bullpen, was unavailable on Wednesday afternoon after throwing 39 pitches on Tuesday night.

Neshek, who has a pristine 0.00 ERA this season, was scheduled to pitch the eighth as the set-up man for closer Hector Neris.

"I'm not really happy about our situation," Mackanin said. "A lot of teams are scuffling. I don't know why that is. In our case, we've had issues with the starters getting us deep into the game. You look at Benoit today, he hadn't pitched in five days because I had to keep pitchers back in the event that we played extra innings. He just couldn't get the ball down. He had an off night. He'll come around. 

"I still believe in these relief pitchers. I know we're better than we've shown. I think we have to get into a rhythm or an alignment. We need the starters to give us more innings, then we can really put together a nice bullpen."

Mackanin will get a new arm on Friday. Following Wednesday's game, the Phils optioned right-hander Jake Thompson to Triple-A; a corresponding move will be made before they return to the field on Friday.

Benoit entered the game Wednesday against the Mariners in the seventh inning of a 3-3 game. He allowed each of the first three batters he faced to reach: single, walk, double.

After finally recording an out, Benoit allowed three more to reach consecutively. One of those three was Carlos Ruiz, who came about three feet away from hitting a grand slam (and instead settled for a base-clearing double).

Ruiz, who entered the afternoon hitting .111 with one RBI on the season, added a sacrifice fly in the eighth inning, collecting four times as many RBI in the span of two innings as he had in the first 5 1/2 weeks of the season.

Benoit was mercifully lifted from the game after issuing his second walk, after four runs had been tacked onto the visiting half of the Citizens Bank scoreboard. The game was the first for the veteran reliever since last Thursday, when he served up a game-tying eighth-inning home run to Miguel Montero, also in relief of Eflin, also in an eventual defeat.

"It’s always tough when you don’t have command of your pitches," Benoit said.

Thompson, the pitching prospect summoned from Triple-A last week as protection for the overused 'pen, was asked to close out Wednesday's game. And then he packed his things for a return trip to Allentown after the game.

Mackanin may ask if the Pigs have any bullpen inventory to send up next time. He’s in desperate need of relief.

Aaron Altherr and Tommy Joseph both homered for the Phillies in the bottom of the ninth inning. The home run for Altherr was his second of the game; in the third inning, he hit his third three-run home run in as many games. 

Follow Ryan on Twitter: @ryanlawrence21

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