The Phillies may have swept the four game series against the Padres in San Diego over the weekend, but the celebration was dampened by news that closing pitcher Jose Contreras is heading to the disabled list.
From Todd Zolecki:
Contreras has been placed on the 15-day disabled list with a strained right flexor pronator tendon, which is located on the inside part of the elbow. He will fly tomorrow from Phoenix to Philadelphia, where Phillies physician Michael Ciccotti will examine him tomorrow evening or Tuesday morning. A MRI exam is not scheduled, but is a possibility.
It's bad news for a Phillies team that already has two valuable pieces of the bullpen (Brad Lidge, J.C. Romero) on the disabled list, but even more-so given just how thin the pitching is at the back end of the game. With Contreras on the shelf, the Phillies really only have two reliable arms in the 'pen, namely Ryan Madson and Antonio Bastardo.
With the absence of Contreras, the 'pen is obviously much weaker. He's been rock solid since he arrived in town in 2010 and has been exceptional in 75 games as a reliever, striking out 66 in 64 innings while tallying an ERA of 2.92. Now that Jose is on the shelf for at least a couple weeks, there are some pretty significant implications and things to keep an eye out for until he gets back from the disabled list.
Audition: Without Contreras in the fold, Ryan Madson is the likely, obvious, and smart choice to take over as the closing pitcher. In nine games this season, he's struck out 10 to the tune of a 1.00 ERA while netting two saves. There is a greater meaning behind his stepping into this role, as he has long been considered the successor to Brad Lidge. A strong performance over the next few weeks could give the fans and the front office a glimpse of 2012 and beyond.
New Blood: While Antonio Bastardo has been electric this season (9.1 IP, 0 ER, 14 K, 1 save), the Phillies would love to get a similar performance out of Contreras' replacement, Michael Stutes, who was called up from AAA. The right-hander impressed during spring training and has excelled similarly at Lehigh Valley this season, with 14 strikeouts and an 1.80 ERA over ten innings. While it remains to be seen what his role in the bullpen will be, it wouldn't surprise me if he gets a lot of looks in the seventh and eighth innings before too long.
What's Old is New Again: While the youth movement of Bastardo and Stutes is going to be fun to watch, it also means that Charlie Manuel is going to be leaning heavily on the likes of Danys Baez, Kyle Kendrick and David Herndon. Despite Kendrick and Baez sporting ERAs under 3.00, their track record would suggest that the Phillies would be wise to limit their usage in close games. Still, get ready for more looks at those arms than you can handle.
More Runs, Please: Although the starting rotation and bullpen has been doing their job through 21 games this season, it really wouldn't hurt the Phillies to start scoring more than three or four runs a game. The fewer high leverage innings with a thinned out bullpen, the better.
All told, the Phillies are going to miss Contreras while he recovers, and we can only hope that the prognosis doesn't take a drastic turn for the worse and that the rest of the bullpen stays healthy. At this point, the Phils are down to a pair of reliable arms, and unless the offense starts scoring five or six runs a game, it's going to be an adventure in the late innings. However, the silver lining in all of this is that the young Stutes gets a chance to shine, and if his Minor League success translates to The Show, the Phillies could find themselves coming out way ahead when Contreras returns.