They had Jonathan Papelbon, who is one of the top closers in baseball. They signed Mike Adams and Chad Durbin to join Antonio Bastardo to provide a veteran presence. And a stable of young relievers had helped the bullpen to a 2.84 ERA the final two months of last season, which ranked sixth best in baseball.
But the Phillies' bullpen is the third worst this season with a 4.48 ERA, and its struggles continued when Adams and Bastardo allowed the winning run to score in the eighth inning of Tuesday's 3-2 loss to the Twins at Target Field. The Phillies have lost four consecutive games to drop to 31-34, wasting last week's five-game winning streak that gave them a winning record for the first time since last season.
"It's not good," said Cole Hamels, who allowed two runs in six innings. "It's really not great. When you think you've finally figured things out and you've finally got momentum, and then you get the results we've been having, it's not good. Guys have to make the adjustments, myself included. Because I want to win, and that's what I'm going out there to try to do. If [the losses] add up, it's not going to put us in a good situation. Losing four in a row makes it add up real fast, especially when we just got over .500 and you get to start back over. Now we have to start back over again."
The Phillies signed Adams to a two-year, $12 million contract in December to be their setup man. He brought a stellar reputation, but was a risk following surgery in October, when the first rib below his right clavicle was removed. Adams has had trouble staying healthy this season, although he has not missed time due to complications from the surgery. But he spent time on the disabled list last month because of a strained back, and missed some time in the past week after experiencing soreness in his right biceps.
Since Adams returned from the DL on May 26, he is 0-1 with a 7.11 ERA.
"I don't know," Adams said. "I'm going through a tough stretch right now. I'm working to get out of it. It's been rough."
He started the eighth inning with the game tied at 2. It was his first appearance in five days, and he promptly walked Jamey Carroll on four pitches. (Phillies manager Charlie Manuel said Adams was ready to pitch.) Joe Mauer followed with a single to right to put runners on first and second.
Adams got Ryan Doumit on a fielder's choice to put runners on the corners and then got Josh Willingham to foul out.
Enter Bastardo to face Twins first baseman Justin Morneau.
Morneau fouled off four consecutive pitches before hitting a 1-2 fastball up the middle to score Carroll and give the Twins the lead.
"He fouled off all of them, so I tried to go away with the fastball," Bastardo said. "My spot was outside. Yeah, that was why he just put the head out. He didn't try to pull. He don't do nothing. He just put the barrel on it. Nothing I can do about it, you know? I tried to make a pitch. He tried to hit the ball, so I give the credit to him."
"Antonio's got to get out Morneau," Manuel said.
"He's a fastball/slider guy," Morneau said. "I wanted to be aggressive. I was able to foul some off, and when you get two strikes, you just try to survive and get something in the zone. I fouled a few off and got a mistake there and didn't miss it."
Asked if his arm felt good enough to pitch, Adams said, "It feels better. I don't feel as bad as I did. It's very rarely going to feel 100 percent, so if I'm able to get out there and think I'll be able to be effective, I'll always be out there. … I'm good enough to go out there. I'm just not pitching like I need to right now."
Of course, nearly forgotten is the Phillies' offense, which looked meager against the Twins. It was the 23rd time this season they have scored two or fewer runs in a game. After the Twins took a 2-1 lead in the fourth when they hit four consecutive balls hard against Hamels, including three straight doubles off the wall, the Phillies tied the game in the eighth on Ryan Howard's RBI single.
But the bullpen gave the lead right back.
"We're not satisfied with it," Manuel said about his bullpen. "There's a disappointment."