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Gabe Kapler trying to find solution to Phillies' bullpen troubles

Gabe Kapler trying to find solution to Phillies' bullpen troubles

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PHILADELPHIA — Phillies manager Gabe Kapler spent the All-Star break thinking about reliever Ranger Suarez.

With the injuries that have ravaged Philadelphia’s bullpen, Kapler must think outside the box when it comes to handling his relievers.

“One thing I always talk to our players about is who performs best under suboptimal conditions,” Kapler said in his office Monday afternoon. “Our bullpen is just a suboptimal condition right now.”

The Phillies (48-45) hosted the Los Angeles Dodgers (62-33) Monday night in the first of a key four-game series at Citizens Bank Park. The Dodgers have the best record in the National League. If the season had ended Monday, the Phillies would have had one of the NL’s two wild-card playoff spots.

But for the Phillies to stay in postseason contention, the bullpen must be consistent. In veteran relievers Tommy Hunter, David Robertson and Pat Neshek, the Phillies have $26.75 million in salaries on the injured list. Seranthony Dominguez, who emerged last season as one of Philadelphia’s top bullpen options, is also hurt and hasn’t pitched since June 5.

“We came into it expecting that depth was going to be the key to our bullpen, more so than any one electric arm,” general manager Matt Klentak said in a meeting with reporters last month. “And it turns out our depth has been compromised.”

The Phillies have had to rely on relievers, such as J.D. Hammer, who were not expected to pitch pivotal innings when the season began. Philadelphia began Monday with a bullpen ERA of 4.74, which ranked 10th in the 15-team NL. Opponents were hitting .267 against Phillies relievers, which ranked 13th.

“I see it as a challenge, but one that comes with a lot of reward as well,” Kapler said of the predicament. “It makes you work a little bit harder on trying to put guys in the best positions to succeed. We’re going to screw it up. We’re going to think somebody is ready for a moment, and he might not be.”

The bullpen dilemma is why Kapler spent the break thinking about Suarez.

The 23-year-old left-hander pitched two-thirds of an inning in a 4-3 win over the Washington Nationals on Sunday. He entered in the seventh inning with the score tied and runners on first and third.

Suarez got Adam Eaton to bounce into a fielder’s choice and retired Anthony Rendon on an infield popup.

Suarez has been a starting pitcher in his minor league career. Left-handed hitters are batting .206 (7 for 34) against him in the big leagues. As a result of that statistic, Suarez could find himself pitching this week as a reliever in critical spots against left-handed hitters.

“The sample is not huge, but it’s not tiny anymore,” Kapler said. “Maybe he’s a guy we can lean on in big moments.”

The rethinking of Suarez’s role is an example of the type of creative thinking the Phillies have had to do because of their bullpen injuries.

Neshek is on the 60-day injured list with a grade two left hamstring strain and is not expected back until September. Hunter has a right forearm strain, the same type of injury that forced him to miss the season’s first three months. There is no set timetable for Robertson (right elbow flexor stain) and Dominguez (ulnar collateral ligament damage in right elbow) to return.

“One thing we know,” Kapler said, “is we don’t have a choice about whether we deploy a young developing pitcher in a situation it might be a little bit early for.”

Contact: 609-272-7209 MMcGarry@pressofac.com

Twitter @ACPressMcGarry

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