PHILADELPHIA -- The Phillies could no longer pin their bullpen’s poor performance to the inconsistent work from nine postponements the first two weeks of the season, so on Tuesday they made a flurry of moves to change things.
They selected the contracts of right-handers Connor Brogdon and Blake Parker to help a bullpen with a 9.87 ERA, which is the highest mark in baseball. To make room on the 40-man roster, outfielder Nick Williams and righty Trevor Kelley were designated for assignment. To clear a spot on the 28-man roster, the Phillies optioned right-hander Nick Pivetta.
Brogdon is an intriguing choice to help. The Phillies selected him in the 10th round of the 2017 Draft out of Lewis-Clark State College. He started in college, but moved to the bullpen with Class A Williamsport in 2017. The 6-foot-6, 205-pounder from California throws a fastball in the upper-90s alongside a swing-and-miss changeup.
“There’s a lot of upside with Connor,” Phillies manager Joe Girardi said.
Parker has made 289 appearances in a seven-year career with the Cubs, Angels, Twins, Yankees, Mariners and Phillies. He provides experience that is lacking in the bullpen behind closer Héctor Neris, Tommy Hunter, José Álvarez and Adam Morgan.
“Hopefully, these two can help out our bullpen and we can be more productive,” Girardi said.
Pivetta’s demotion and the removal of Williams from the 40-man roster are noteworthy in their own rights. Pivetta entered last season as a trendy pick among analysts as a breakout star as a starter. He struggled last season, and after he lost the No. 5 starter job in Summer Camp to Vince Velasquez, Pivetta struggled in the bullpen. He allowed 10 hits and 10 runs in 5 2/3 innings (15.88 ERA) in three appearances. Kelley allowed eight hits and four runs in 3 1/3 innings (10.80 ERA).
Pivetta expressed frustration and disappointment in the past when the Phillies optioned him to Triple-A Lehigh Valley or bumped him to the bullpen. Perhaps he was frustrated to not make the rotation out of camp?
“In this game, you have to be able to turn the page quickly,” Girardi said. “He was always ready when I called upon him. The results aren’t what he expected and what we expected, but I never felt like he wasn’t ready mentally when I called upon him to pitch.”
Pivetta, who was unavailable to comment on Tuesday, will continue to work as a reliever at the team’s alternate training site in Allentown, Pa.
“I don’t think Nick has thrown the ball nearly as well as he’s capable of throwing the baseball,” Girardi said. “But we’re in a results-oriented business, and we need to get him right. I believe he can get important outs for us.”
Williams was the final piece of the 2015 Cole Hamels trade still in the Phillies’ organization. He batted .288 with 12 home runs, 55 RBIs and an .811 OPS in 343 plate appearances in 2017. Williams batted .256 with 17 homers, 50 RBIs and a .749 OPS in 448 plate appearances in '18, eventually falling out of favor with the front office and former manager Gabe Kapler.
Williams batted just .151 in 112 plate appearances last season. It was clear he had fallen far off the team’s depth chart. There had been talk in Spring Training that Williams could be designated for assignment before the COVID-19 pandemic struck.
Maybe Williams will get an opportunity elsewhere to show he can replicate his 2017 success.
“I think Nick is a good player,” Girardi said. “I hope we’re able to keep him, but I think it can create opportunities for a lot of people. I’ve seen it happen in the past where there are some good players blocked because there are some really, really good players in front of them.”
“I sure hope so,” Girardi said.
Suárez and Robertson are headed to Philadelphia, where they will throw for Girardi, pitching coach Bryan Price and others in the coming days. Then they will head to the team’s alternate training site to continue to build up arm strength after that. Robertson is recovering from Tommy John surgery. Suárez is recovering from COVID-19.
“We want to get our eyes on them before they go to Lehigh Valley,” Girardi said.