Clearwater Countdown: Charlie, Who You Gonna Call?

Phillies pitchers and catchers report to Clearwater in just two days. In honor of the start of Spring Training is doing our top-10 countdown of issues to be settled before Opening Day.

No. 2:

Who will Phils Manager Charlie Manuel be calling in the bullpen?

Brad Lidge, Ryan Madson and Chad Durbin are back but what about the rest?

The Phillies bullpen was the most consistent contributor to the World Champs last season.

Phillies relievers went 33-23 with 47 saves and a 3.22 ERA in 468 total appearances. Opponents only hit .251 off the entire unit.

The biggest key for Phillies relievers was control. They struck out 411 batters while walking only 211. A 2:1 strikeouts to walks ratio normally spells relief late in games.

The anchor of the pen had to be All-Star closer Lidge.

He went a perfect 41-for-41 in save chances with a minuscule 1.95 ERA. His perfect season (including seven most postseason saves with a sub-1.00 ERA) has become folklore already.

The same perfect performance can't be expected this season but there is no reason (unless he runs into Albert Pujols again) that he won't put up another great season with an ERA around 2.00 with 40+ saves.

All three of the main guys (Madson, Durbin and J.C. Romero) that served as the "Bridge to Lidge" will be back for the 2009 Phightins -- with one little (make that big) problem. Romero has to serve a 50-game suspension for failing a drug test that will put him out of action until June.

Mad Dog and Durbin both looked good throughout 2008 staying healthy (for the most part) despite pitching an obscene amount of innings (82.2 for Madson and 87.2 for Durbin).

Each righty kept his ERA around 3.00 and kept the team in some close games.

The same amount of innings pitched can't be expected of Durbin who showed some wear and tear in the second half of the season but don't be surprised if Mad Dog makes about 75 appearances and pitches north of 80 innings this season.

The other guy of course is the left-handed Romero. Since arriving mid-way through 2007 Phils phans have embraced the simple statement -- "J.C. Saves."

He saves leads and gets tough lefties out in tight spots. The problem is that he can't do any of that until game No. 51 of the 2009 season.

The burden for getting lefties out will fall on Scott Eyre. The burly lefty was picked up in early August and proceeded to pitch great for the Phils -- 18 appearances, 14.1 innings, 1.88 ERA and 18 Ks to only three walks.

Eyre pitched amazing as a lefty specialist but its unlikely that he could repeat that performance if he is asked to pitch in more of a set up role that Romero has held down the last couple seasons.

The forgotten holdover from 2008 has to be Clay Condrey. He pitched in 56 games both as a junk time filler and big spot shutdown guy. He had a very respectable 3.26 ERA but didn't impress with only 34 Ks.

Condrey is a solid reliever that may be asked to step it up early this season as Romero serves his suspension.

The real questions are who the final two relievers will be.

There are many possibilities including J.A. Happ, Kyle Kendrick and Chan Ho Park -- all of whom are fighting for the fifth starting spot. There are also a slew of young arms that the Phillies may ask to step into the pen.

Park may have the inside track to be the long-reliever especially after his success (3.40 ERA) in that role with the 2008 Dodgers.

Kendrick also remains a possibility even though his lack of a strikeout pitch could worry the Phillies if he is called on in a tight spot.

Happ has starter stuff and if he doesn't make the big club as a starter then he may be better served starting in Triple-A ball than lounging around in a Major-League bullpen waiting for the call.

The seventh reliever spot (barring that the Phils don't bring in a guy like Will Ohman) could go to one of three guys (two of whom made small splashes for the Phils in the past).

Burly left-hander Mike Zagurski (remember him from 2007) is coming back from Tommy John surgery and hasn't throw a pitch in more than a year but is being considered a front runner, of sorts, to make the team if he is able to pitch again soon.

Another possibility is fire-baller Joe Bisenius who made the 2007 Opening Day roster and actually pitched in two games (2.1 scoreless innings) but hasn't sniffed the majors since. If the Phillies opt for a right-hander to fill the last spot than he may be the guy.

But, the guy who seems most likely to be sitting in the pen on Opening Day is Sergio Escalona. The 24-year-old lefty put up a 2.22 ERA in 15 games for Double-A Reading last season.

Be it Escalona, Zags, JoeBis or another guy that fills out the pen, Phils fans should take comfort knowing that at least the top six spots will be occupied by known entities until Romero returns. Manuel will be able to make the call knowing what he is going to get.

At the least it should be a fun battle to watch.

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