Phillies pitching coach Rich Dubee summoned Qualls into manager Charlie Manuel's office before Thursday afternoon's game against the Pirates at Citizens Bank Park, where he found general manager Ruben Amaro Jr., assistant general manager Scott Proefrock and Manuel waiting for him.
Amaro told Qualls he had been designated for assignment. The Phillies selected left-hander Jeremy Horst's contract from Triple-A to take his place on the roster. Horst went 1-2 with a 2.11 ERA in 38 1/3 innings with Lehigh Valley.
"We just felt it was the right thing to do," Amaro said. "There have been some inconsistencies with him. It's something we've discussed a little bit over the last several weeks. His stuff is good. I just don't know that he's been as effective as his stuff has shown."
The Phillies have 10 days to dispose of Qualls' contract. They can trade him, release him or place him on waivers. If Qualls clears waivers, the Phils could ask him to accept an assignment to Triple-A Lehigh Valley. But Qualls could reject the assignment and elect to become a free agent, although he would forfeit the remaining $1.15 million on his contract.
Qualls has asked to be traded, although the club might be hard pressed to find a suitor.
"We'll see if there's some interest out there," Amaro said. "At this point, there had not been any interest out there for him."
Qualls went 1-1 with a 4.60 ERA in 35 appearances this season. He had a 4.26 ERA in 15 appearances this month, although 13 of the 15 appearances were scoreless. But while he held right-handers to a .250 average, left-handers hit .377 against him, making him ineffective in critical late-inning situations.
"I felt like I had been throwing the ball really well all June," Qualls said. "I had a tough May. The organization feels like they want to make a move. That's fine. It's part of the game. I asked Ruben to trade me. That's basically what he's trying to do. I feel like I'm a big league pitcher. I've been doing this for a long time. If I go out there [Wednesday] and have a 1-2-3 inning, we're not having this conversation. It's a little weird that we're here."
But the Phillies also could be changing the chemistry in the bullpen. Qualls' blasé demeanor is different from former veteran relievers like Brad Lidge, Chad Durbin, Scott Eyre and Tom Gordon, and might not have jived with a mostly inexperienced bullpen that has included rookies like Michael Schwimer, Jake Diekman, Joe Savery, B.J. Rosenberg and Horst.
The Phils' bullpen entered Thursday with a 4.62 ERA, which ranked 28th, so Qualls is far from the 'pen's only problem.
Qualls was asked if he was a scapegoat for the relief corps' collective woes.
"I expect more out of myself," he said. "I could have thrown the ball a lot better while I was here. I don't want to say that I'm a scapegoat or anything like that. It's just a move the organization wants to make. This is the way it is. I can't change it. I can't bad-mouth anybody or argue. That's not the type of person I am. I've been playing a long time, so I don't want to burn any bridges. You just have to accept it and move on, just like anything else you handle in life."
Asked if he would accept an assignment to Triple-A, Qualls said, "I have no idea."
Amaro said he isn't sure what the Phillies would do, either.
But Amaro said he knows the bullpen needs to improve if the team expects to make the postseason for the sixth consecutive year.
"It's an area that we need to address," Amaro said. "But right, now we're going to address it with the guys [in the organization] ... we've got to give the guys an opportunity to try to grow. How much they can grow through the course of the season, we don't know."
But how patient can the Phillies be with rookie relievers when the team is trying to win?
"It is a little bit of a balancing act," Amaro said.
Of course, the real solution is a trade or two for a veteran reliever, but Amaro said teams aren't eager to trade pitching right now. That might come next month closer to the July 31 non-waiver Trade Deadline.
"One of the residual effects of the two Wild Card teams is you're not going to see a lot of movement," Amaro said. "Because there are going to be a lot more teams in it, or at least [teams that] believe that they are -- us being one of them. As far back as we are right now, we still believe we have a chance to be a contender. We are one, but obviously we have to play more consistent baseball over the next several weeks."
In other Phillies news Thursday:
The Phils selected right-hander Brian Sanches' contract from Triple-A Lehigh Valley to take left-hander Joe Savery's spot on the roster. The club optioned Savery to Triple-A on Wednesday. Sanches is 3-1 with a 2.48 ERA in 32 2/3 innings with the IronPigs. He went 0-1 with an 11.25 ERA in three appearances earlier this season with Philadelphia.
Amaro said the club discussed Lidge, whom the Nationals recently released, but it does not sound like the Phillies are interested.
"I think we're going to go with the guys that we have," Amaro said.
Asked why the Phils decided to have a bullpen game Wednesday instead of using one of their Triple-A starters like Tyler Cloyd, who is 7-1 with a 2.17 ERA and made the International League All-Star team, Amaro said, "We felt like the option that we had with starting [Raul] Valdes was the best option we had."
The bullpen gave up 11 runs in an 11-7 loss to the Pirates.