Four games into the shortened, 60-game season, the Phillies' bullpen is exactly what you thought it would be.
The Phils are 1-3 and all three defeats can be traced back to pitching. Aaron Nola threw a couple of poor curveballs in the season opener against Miami and paid dearly for them. Vince Velasquez and the bullpen got beaten up by the Marlins two days later.
And on Monday night — after not playing a game for eight full days — the Phillies lost, 6-3, to the New York Yankees.
A lack of clutch hitting has definitely hurt the Phillies in their two most recent losses. They were 4 for 19 with runners in scoring position in those two games and left 21 men on base.
But both of those games — the Game 3 loss to the Marlins and the loss to the Yankees — were manageable until the bullpen got in the way.
After Velasquez coughed up a 4-0 lead and was bounced by the Marlins after three innings, the bullpen was tagged for seven runs in six innings in that 11-6 loss nine days ago.
And on Monday night, the Phils were down just 3-1 to the Yankees in the sixth inning when offseason waiver claim Deolis Guerra came in because manager Joe Girardi decided that starter Jake Arrieta, in his first start in almost a year, had "given us everything he had." Arrieta was at 78 pitches. He thought he could have kept going but he understood Girardi's caution.
Guerra's job was to keep the game close. He didn't. He walked the first batter he faced, hit the second batter he faced and allowed a three-run homer to the fourth batter (Gio Urshela) he faced.
The Phillies scored a couple of late runs, but it didn't matter. They couldn't play over Guerra's sloppiness.
With switch-hitter Aaron Hicks and right-handed power bat Giancarlo Stanton due up in the bottom of the sixth, Girardi went to the right-hander Guerra over lefty Adam Morgan. Guerra had inspired a bit of confidence in Girardi with a scoreless ninth inning and two strikeouts in the Phillies' 7-1 win over Miami more than a week earlier.
"Deolis threw the ball really well last weekend and was not able to repeat it," Girardi said after the game. "I feel like he has the ability to help us. He just didn't have it tonight."
Morgan came on and quieted things down after Guerra left and veterans Tommy Hunter and Jose Alvarez both pitched a scoreless inning. Those three veterans, along with Hector Neris, are expected to be mainstays in the bullpen. The other seven spots are iffy. The Phils have been hit hard by injury and other medical issues (David Robertson, Seranthony Dominguez, Ranger Suarez) and were not willing to push the luxury tax to bring in relief help over the winter. So, this is what you've got: A bullpen that after four games is just what you thought it would be — a problem.
Girardi has been around long enough to know what's what. But four games into this most unusual season when his team had to idle for eight days because the Miami Marlins couldn't follow health and safety protocols, he will be patient before reaching down to Lehigh Valley for a remake. At least as patient as he can be in a sprint season that has just 56 games remaining.
"I think it's really hard to judge our bullpen right now just because we haven't played in a week, eight days," Girardi said. "Some of these guys haven't worked in eight or nine days. We try to get them as much work as we can, but it's still not game conditions.
"I think you have to give each guy three to four appearances to be fair to them with consistent work. You ask all relievers, they want consistent work. They don't want to sit for a week and then expect to go out there and have pinpoint control and have a good feel for their breaking ball and whatever other pitches they have. I think they need some consistent work before we really make a judgment.
"If we were to make changes, you're calling up kids who have no experience as well in a sense. These were the guys we thought threw the ball the best during the camps and they've got to get it done."