The Phillies did not get much length out of their starting pitchers on their seven-game road trip and thus had a need for another arm out of the bullpen.
Enter Jake Thompson, the 23-year-old starting pitching prospect who made 10 starts for the big club last summer. Thompson was called up from Triple A on Friday and will be available to pitch out of the Phillies' bullpen for a few days (see story).
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Phillies relievers averaged 4.5 innings per game during the road trip and accounted for 45 percent of the innings, so they're going with a short bench for the time being - backup catcher Andrew Knapp, first baseman Brock Stassi, utility infielder Andres Blanco and outfielder Daniel Nava. Ty Kelly was optioned to Lehigh Valley to make room for Thompson.
"It's just like a start," Thompson said of his short-term role as a long man in the Phillies' bullpen. "If you're going to throw multiple innings it's almost like a start anyway."
A month into the season, the Phillies have already called up Thompson, Zach Eflin, Ben Lively and Mark Leiter Jr. from Triple A. Eflin has solidified himself in the rotation, whereas Lively did not pitch and Leiter has made only two appearances so far.
The moves have as much to do with roster construction as performance. Thompson is on the Phils' 40-man roster so nobody needed to be designated for assignment for him to be called up.
"Last year was a little different because all of our bullpen at Triple A was 40-man guys," Thompson said.
Thompson has had a wretched start to the season with Lehigh Valley, but has pitched much better of late. After allowing 15 runs in 4⅔ innings in his first two starts, he's settled in to allow just two earned runs in his last 18⅓ innings.
After those first two poor starts at Triple A, Thompson went back to using his old mechanics. Last season when the Phillies called him up, he had some growing pains and they changed his delivery, simplifying it and eliminating the moving parts.
It worked and Thompson improved. But after the struggles he experienced early this season, he went back to what's worked for most of his life.
"It's just something I'm a little more comfortable with," he said. "I've got so many more reps with those mechanics. I think more than anything I needed a change of pace. I was definitely pressing (last summer) and nobody wants to struggle early, especially your first time up. That made it simple but I think it wasn't necessarily a long-term fix, it was a short-term fix."
It's unclear how long Thompson will be up, but it would not be shocking to see the Phillies turn to a six-man rotation or just give their starters extra days off later in the season. They have a staff full of young pitchers, Aaron Nola has dealt with injury issues, and Vince Velasquez and Eflin have never exceeded 131 innings.
Thompson will likely get a chance to start again this season, and when he does, he'll feel more prepared.
"I know what I'm getting myself into," he said. "I threw against some of the best teams in the National League last year, I've seen some of the best hitters. Not that I had a lot success against them, but I at least feel a little bit more comfortable about settling in and doing the job."