Ryan Madson

Do Phillies have enough in bullpen besides their top trio?

Do Phillies have enough in bullpen besides their top trio?

The Phillies have three very good relievers in Seranthony Dominguez, David Robertson and Pat Neshek. 

Do they have enough in the bullpen besides that trio? It highlights the importance of the Phillies getting the production Hector Neris gave them in the second half of 2018, when he struck out half the batters he faced. 

If Victor Arano and Edubray Ramos cannot step up and seize roles as they did last season, the bullpen could be a concern. Arano struggled badly again Saturday vs. the Astros, allowing six runs without recording an out. In three innings this spring, Arano has allowed 21 baserunners and has an ERA of 51.00. 

Spring training numbers aren’t super meaningful, but it’s hard to look past them when they’re that bad. 

Arano, with his sinker-slider combo, was very good for most of 2018. Manager Gabe Kapler referred more than once to his “stones” — a euphemism we shouldn’t need to explain. 

Arano does have minor-league options left and it’s fair to wonder whether he’s pitched his way off the opening day roster. 

If the Phillies open with an eight-man bullpen, Dominguez, Robertson, Neshek and Neris are locks. Lefties Adam Morgan and Jose Alvarez — both out of options — appear to be as well. 

Those final two spots are up for grabs, especially with Tommy Hunter still sidelined by a flexor strain.

The Phillies have an exciting young right-hander in Edgar Garcia, who could make a Dominguez-like impact in 2019. But he was optioned to Triple A on March 11, making him unlikely to contribute right away. 

Yacksel Rios could make this team out of camp. He’s looked great this spring and can touch the upper-90s. If the focus is what-have-you-done-for-me-lately, he should be in Philly on March 28. 

Juan Nicasio, making $9M in the last year of his contract, could make the club by default. 

But if the Phillies are unsure whether this unit can protect enough leads ... Craig Kimbrel is still out there. Even at this point, you’re not getting him for cheap. Signing Kimbrel might require only a two-year commitment at this point but it would still take the Phillies right up against the luxury tax threshold, which has more meaningful ramifications down the road than just this season (see story).

Former Phillie Ryan Madson, now 38 years old, is also still out there. Like Kimbrel, he’s been unsatisfied with the offers he’s received. Madson was excellent in 2017 (1.83 ERA in 60 appearances) but last season had his highest ERA (5.47) since becoming a full-time reliever in 2007. He wouldn’t cost nearly as much as Kimbrel. 

Opening day is 12 days away. We’ll see whether the Phillies are confident enough in this bunch to protect the leads they’ll have more frequently this season.

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10 years ago today: Unheralded Ryan Madson key to Phillies' World Series run

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10 years ago today: Unheralded Ryan Madson key to Phillies' World Series run

Ten years ago this month, the Phillies won their second World Series title in franchise history. Over the next few weeks, Jim Salisbury will look back at the team's run through the NLCS and World Series.

Baseball is an everyday game of rhythm and momentum and when a team is riding a good wave the last thing it wants is a day off. The Phillies got six of them between their NLCS clincher in Los Angeles and Game 1 of the World Series in St. Petersburg.

The Tampa Bay Rays had advanced to the World Series by beating the favored Boston Red Sox in the ALCS and they were a majors-best 57-24 at home.

So heading into Tropicana Field, the Phillies needed a quick start for a lot of reasons, mostly to knock off any rust that had accumulated after a weeklong layoff. They got it from two of the offensive forces of their team. Jayson Werth drew a one-out walk against Scott Kazmir in the first inning and Chase Utley followed with a two-run homer to give the Phillies the quick lead they needed. The Phils manufactured a run in the fourth to go up, 3-0, and pitching and defense made it all stand up for a 3-2 win. (The pitching and defense had to be good because Phillies' hitters were 0 for 13 with runners in scoring position and stranded 11 men.)

The starting pitching matchup featured two exciting, young lefties. Kazmir had been the 15th overall pick in the 2002 draft. Cole Hamels was the 17th overall pick. Hamels continued his breakout month with seven innings of two-run ball to improve to 4-0 in that postseason. In 29 innings, he'd struck out 27 and allowed just five runs to that point.

Hamels got some assists in this one. Manager Charlie Manuel liked to use slick-fielding Pedro Feliz at third base behind lefties Hamels and Jamie Moyer. The move paid off when Feliz made a big play to start a clutch 5-4-3 double play to get Hamels out of a bases-loaded jam in the third.

Brad Lidge wrapped it up with his sixth save of the postseason but before that Ryan Madson logged a scoreless eighth inning. To that point in the postseason, he'd pitched 10 innings and given up just one run.

Late in the season, Madson became a demon out of the bullpen for 2008 Phillies. Something clicked for him. His shoulder, which had bothered him a year earlier, got healthy and he became more serious about his craft. He gained confidence and attacked hitters with a high-90s fastball and a knee-buckling changeup. So many things came together for that championship team. Madson's emergence might have been overshadowed at times, but it was huge.

"Ryan's confidence is like a closer's right now," Lidge said after the Game 1 win. "He's learned how to dominate guys."

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Previously in this series

Former Phillies setup man Ryan Madson plays key role in Nationals' win

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Former Phillies setup man Ryan Madson plays key role in Nationals' win

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WASHINGTON — It was a sight we'd seen before, Ryan Madson mowing down hitters in the eighth inning with a big fastball and a baffling changeup for one of the best teams in baseball.

Only this wasn't 2008 and Madson wasn't wearing a Phillies uniform.

Nine seasons after he helped the Phillies win the World Series as the bridge to Lidge, Madson, now 37, is back in the National League East pitching for the playoff-bound Washington Nationals. He got three big outs — two via strikeouts — in a one-run game in the eighth inning to help the Nats beat the Phillies, 4-3, on Thursday night (see observations).

The Nationals' magic number for clinching a fourth straight NL East title is down to four.

Madson joined the Nats in a July trade deadline deal with Oakland. Lefty closer Sean Doolittle also came over in that deal. The duo has been sensational. Doolittle racked up his 16th save in as many chances for the Nats on Thursday night. Madson has collected 12 scoreless innings for his new club. He has allowed six hits and a walk while registering 17 strikeouts. And he's still hitting 97 mph on the radar gun, just like he did in 2008 when he was the setup man for Brad Lidge.

"It's a big gift, a huge gift, coming over here," Madson said after the game. "I just feel very fortunate to have been pitching well enough to be invited over here."

Madson is a survivor. He left the Phillies as a free agent when the Phils signed Jonathan Papelbon to be their closer in November 2011. Shortly after that, Madson was beset by elbow problems and did not pitch in the majors for three seasons. He spent the 2014 season at home before signing with Kansas City in 2015 and helping the Royals win the World Series.

He will get a chance to win a third ring next month.

"My career could have been done very easily," he said. "Thankfully, I found some trainers that got me healthy and got me strong."

Madson said this Nationals team, which also features 2008 Phillies Jayson Werth and Joe Blanton, reminds him of that championship Phillies club.

"And the 2015 Royals," he said. "Any good team is going to have that vibe."

Madson was drafted by the Phillies in 1998. Nineteen years later, he finally pitched against them.

"Pretty crazy," he said. "Somebody just texted me and said that was the last team I hadn't pitched against. Now I've pitched against them all. I didn't even know it."

While he was on the mound, Madson felt no special sentiment pitching against his former team. But after the game ...

"I think it's been so long there was nothing really crazy about it, but after the game I did think about Larry Bowa being over there and I want to say hi to him tomorrow and give him a big hug," Madson said. "He had faith in me and brought me up from Triple A when I was a starter and made me a reliever. So him and Matt Stairs, of course. I need to say hi to them."

Bowa, now the Phillies' bench coach, was the team's manager when Madson came up in 2003. Stairs, now the Phils' hitting coach, was a teammate in 2008. He hit a pretty big home run in the NLCS, if you recall.

Madson worked with a one-run lead Thursday night after Phillies starter Aaron Nola and reliever Adam Morgan could not hold a two-run lead in the bottom of the sixth inning. Nola went 5 1/3 innings and gave up seven hits and three runs, one of which was unearned.

"It wasn't the best we've seen Nola," manager Pete Mackanin said. "He pitched well enough to win. We just didn't score enough."

Two weeks after saying he wanted to keep catcher Cameron Rupp with Nola, Mackanin used rookie Jorge Alfaro behind the plate.

"I just changed my mind," Mackanin said. "I want to see more of Alfaro and let these guys pitch to a different catcher."

Alfaro belted a home run in the third inning. Mackanin believes Alfaro has made strides defensively, though he was charged with a passed ball in the Nationals' three-run sixth.

Alfaro is out of minor-league options and could be the Phillies' primary catcher next season. He needs reps with Nola, the team's most dependable pitcher and a building block for the future.

"He's making a great impression," Mackanin said. "As I always say, everybody is auditioning all the time and he's having a very good audition."

As for Ryan Madson, he is long past the audition stage of his career. But nine years after helping the Phillies win the World Series, he's still going strong and has a chance to win another one in Washington.