Pete Mackanin again expressed confidence in the Phillies' beleaguered bullpen after it allowed eight more runs in three innings Wednesday.
However, the losing pitcher, Joaquin Benoit is unhappy with how the Phils have handled their relievers.
Benoit, who allowed five runs and six baserunners while recording just one out Wednesday, said after the game that the lack of defined roles in the Phillies' bullpen is partially to blame for the unit's struggles.
"I think it's not just about us. I believe that if we have a set role, everybody will fall in place. Right now I think everybody is a different piece," Benoit said after the Phillies lost for the 10th time in 12 games, 11-6 (see Instant Replay).
"Right now I believe that it would be better if everybody knows what the role is and when you're going to contribute.
"One day I'm in the seventh, then I was the sixth, then the ninth, then the eighth. Right now I'm all over the place. It's a little bit consistency. Not just the pitching staff but the people that run it, too."
Benoit entered in the seventh inning Wednesday with the middle of the Mariners' order due up. The Phillies were without left-hander Joely Rodriguez, who was unavailable after throwing 39 pitches in 1 2/3 innings Tuesday night.
The Phillies have used the veteran setup man in a variety of roles already this season. Benoit began as a setup man, then moved into the closer's role, then moved back into a setup role, pitching the sixth, seventh, eighth and ninth innings along the way.
"The people running" the pitching staff that Benoit alluded to are Mackanin and pitching coach Bob McClure. Managing the bullpen has been Mackanin's biggest challenge this season and it's obviously accentuated by the bullpen's constant struggles. The Phillies' bullpen ERA soared Wednesday from 4.12 to 4.66, from 14th in the majors to 24th.
Benoit wasn't passing the buck, just noting that the lack of a comfortable routine is affecting the Phillies' relievers. This isn't some new theory - you hear it often when a bullpen struggles and uses the closer-by-committee approach.
Benoit entered this season with a 2.40 ERA the previous seven years so he's had a ton of experience and success. When Jeanmar Gomez faltered in the ninth inning in early April and Mackanin removed him from the role, the next man up was Benoit. But after just one bad outing in which Benoit allowed a walk-off home run to Bryce Harper, Mackanin yanked Benoit out of the ninth inning in favor of Hector Neris.
Then when Neris had his disastrous outing at Dodger Stadium, the Phils were set to go with Pat Neshek for a few days.
"If I'm going to be set in one place, I don't mind [which inning I pitch]," Benoit said. "If that's definitely the place I'm going to be, I don't mind doing that every day. It's consistency in one spot."
The constant struggles of the Phillies' bullpen so far this season have been a bit surprising. When you looked at this unit to start the season, there was a lot to like. Neris coming off a dominant season. An experienced arm in Benoit who had a 2.40 ERA since 2010. A funky right-hander in Neshek whose deceptiveness nullifies powerful right-handed hitters. An emerging Edubray Ramos.
But this happens sometimes with bullpens. The Tampa Bay Rays, for example, put together almost an entire new bullpen every year. Some years they're great. Some years they're not.
"I still think it's one of our strengths," Mackanin said Wednesday. "The fact that I have been using relief pitchers in situations where I didn't want to and then they become unavailable because they pitched two days in a row, that all adds into the equation. If you get your [starting] pitchers throwing six and seven innings, then it becomes a lot easier. Once we get the starters in gear, it's all going to fall into place.
"Unfortunately all these things are piling up to where I can't use them the way I'd like to use them right now. They've been asked to fill in certain roles that they're not used to."
When asked if it makes it tougher on the manager and pitching coach to assign concrete roles when the bullpen isn't performing, Benoit smiled and repeated his stance.
"It works if you find a place for everybody," he said. "It works."
Anything would seem to work better than the method Mackanin and McClure have used through the season's first six weeks.