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Mighty 'pen a plus for Phillies

The SportsXchange

Before the 2012 season was a month old, the Phillies had four relievers sidelined with serious injuries. Jose Contreras, Mike Stutes and David Herndon wouldn't throw another pitch after the season's first month and Justin De Fratus, sidelined since spring training, had his arrival in the big leagues delayed until September.

And the two veteran arms they did sign to pitch out of the bullpen before the season, righthander Chad Qualls and lefthander Dontrelle Willis, were shipped out before the All-Star break due to ineffectiveness.

The end result was a disastrous season from the relief corps. The Phillies lost 16 games that they had led in the seventh inning or later in 2012.

In an effort to fix that major hole on an otherwise-proven roster, general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. signed veteran set-up man Mike Adams to a two-year, $12 million deal in December.

At the time of the signing, Adams was about two months removed from surgery to correct Thoracic Outlet Syndrome, which included having a rib removed. But a month into camp in Clearwater, Adams already appears strong and in midseason form.

Adams pitched a perfect fourth inning against the Pittsburgh Pirates in Bradenton on March 4, striking out one of the three batters he faced. He hasn't allowed a run in two appearances this spring.

"I think our pitching, we've got some guys who have looked sharp, Adams being one of them," manager Charlie Manuel said of his new set-up reliever. "He's close to being ready. That's kind of what it's all about."

With Adams setting up All-Star closer Jonathan Papelbon, the Phillies potentially have one of the best 1-2 punches at the back of the bullpen in the National League. Additionally, they have veterans Antonio Bastardo (a lefty) and Chad Durbin (a righty) to help handle the load and a rising, potential closer-in-waiting in 6-7 righthander Phillippe Aumont.

Like Adams, Aumont hasn't allowed a run in two spring appearances. The 24-year-old Aumont, who recently departed the team to pitch for Canada in the World Baseball Classic, is one of three prospects the Phillies got back from Seattle when they traded Cliff Lee away in December of 2009. (They've since reacquired Lee, of course).

Even though the calendar said it was March 1, Aumont was pumping 94 mph fastballs at the New York Yankees in his second relief appearance of the spring.

"There's more there," Manuel said. "Every now and then I want him to get mad and see how he's got. Seriously. I saw him last year throw 98, so he can really muscle it up there. He's coming into his own with his split. He was getting ahead of hitters, which is big."

The Phillies bullpen, a problem area in 2012, could become a team strength in 2013.
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