The Philadelphia Phillies have had a tough start in 2012, and the biggest reason for that might be the bullpen. There have been quite a few impressive performances from the starters that went to waste because of the bullpen.
Though closer Jonathan Papelbon has been strong, the rest of the bullpen has kept fans on edge. The unit needs a major boost, and Antonio Bastardo needs to be the guy to give it to them. Aside from the closer, no relief pitcher is more important to this team than Bastardo. If he keeps things going, it should give the Phillies security late in games.
In 2011, Bastardo got off to a hot start for the Phillies. He seemed like he was on track to becoming one of the best relief pitchers in the game. However, he struggled late in the season. Bastardo became unreliable, and that seemed to carry over into 2012. He was a little sketchy in April and even took a loss in a game against the San Francisco Giants. But lately, he has started to look like the promising pitcher he was early in 2011. He has not allowed a run in the month of May. In fact, he has only allowed two earned runs on the season. His ERA is an impressive 1.50 and his WHIP is a mere 1.00. Bastardo has been solid, but now he needs to set an example.
If Bastardo keeps this pace going, some fans will think that he can carry the eighth inning all by himself. I understand that logic. After all, the Phillies will win a lot of games if they can rely on a starter, Bastardo, and Papelbon in every game. However, Bastardo can't be the only option to set up the closer. The Phillies need the other relievers to be able to carry that torch. Hopefully, Bastardo can inspire guys like Chad Qualls and newcomer Jake Diekman to follow his lead.
I have always liked Bastardo, and I believe he can be a great relief pitcher. Right now, he is proof that this bullpen can be better than what we are seeing. He is on fire and will likely be counted on to do a lot this year. That makes me nervous since the same strategy contributed to his struggles in 2011. I don't want the Phillies to run him into the ground by using him too much. I believe Bastardo can be great, but I would love to see another guy step up and take some pressure off of him.* - Mark Paul is a Philadelphia resident and lifelong Phillies fan.