If the Phillies have an Achilles' heel, it's their bullpen. Although their relievers' 3.46 ERA ranks seventh in the National League, the core of youngsters that makes up the majority of the bullpen has struggled in September.
Perhaps most troubling has been the downturn of the previously dominant Antonio Bastardo. One of the National League's best relievers all season, Bastardo is 0-1 with a 9.00 ERA in eight games in September.
In six innings, Bastardo has allowed six runs on six hits and five walks while striking out six. The six hits he has allowed are nearly as many as the eight he gave up in 22 games in July and August combined.
Thankfully for the Phillies' playoff hopes, the coaching staff has uncovered the problem: Bastardo, the only left-hander in their projected playoff bullpen, has been tipping pitches.
Pitching coach Rich Dubee figured it out after Bastardo gave up a run on two hits in the eighth inning of the Phillies' 7-5 loss to Washington on Wednesday.
"When you look at the swings Washington took off him the other day, you're not supposed to hit some of those balls the way they hit them," Dubee explained. "He threw a couple down sliders that (Ryan) Zimmerman hit and (Jonny) Gomes just missed -- we're not talking about lazy sliders that are up in the strike zone. We're talking about sliders with depth and action to them. Hopefully we've hit on the right thing."
In Bastardo's last five appearances, opponents are batting .400 against him compared to his MLB-best .133 opponents' batting average for the season.
The sudden shift in success, from pitcher to hitter, tipped off the Phillies that something was up.
"When you're sitting there as a hitter and a guy throws a breaking ball or a changeup and he don't even make any kind of movement -- he just sits there and waits on it -- that's a good sign that he's either sitting on that pitch and looking for it or there's something that he sees that he thinks he knows what's coming," manager Charlie Manuel said.
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