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Phillies to lean on versatile bullpen in 2018

New manager Kapler not wedded to traditional reliever roles
MLB.com @ToddZolecki

PHILADELPHIA -- The Phillies could turn bullpen usage on its head in 2018.

Manager Gabe Kapler said last month that the mindset of his players "can and will be one of flexibility … I am not married to any specific role because that isn't mental toughness. If I can only do one thing, that's not a very mentally tough way to start."

PHILADELPHIA -- The Phillies could turn bullpen usage on its head in 2018.

Manager Gabe Kapler said last month that the mindset of his players "can and will be one of flexibility … I am not married to any specific role because that isn't mental toughness. If I can only do one thing, that's not a very mentally tough way to start."

It could mean the prototypical setup men and closer pitching earlier in games if the game is on the line, rather than saving them for the eighth and ninth innings, as is tradition.

But the Phillies signed Pat Neshek and Tommy Hunter last month not only to give Kapler better options, but because the Phillies need a strong bullpen to make up for the rotation's potential shortcomings. The Phillies noticed how the Dodgers handled their rotation last season. They had the best rotation in Major League Baseball, posting a 3.39 ERA, but their starters pitched five or fewer innings 76 times, which ranked fourth.The Phillies could follow a similar blueprint in 2018, albeit for different reasons.

MLB.com is taking a look at the projected bullpen of all 30 teams ahead of Spring Training. Here's how the Phillies might stack up:

BULLPEN IF SEASON STARTED TODAY
Hector Neris, RHP
Luis Garcia, RHP
Pat Neshek, RHP
Tommy Hunter, RHP
Adam Morgan, LHP
Edubray Ramos, RHP
Victor Arano, RHP
Hoby Milner, LHP

STRENGTH
General manager Matt Klentak said the Phillies could have an eight-man bullpen, and based upon the talent and potential on the 40-man roster, they have enough quality arms to fill it out. Other pitchers in camp on the 40-man who could earn a job in the bullpen are right-handers Mark Leiter Jr., Ricardo Pinto and Yacksel Rios, and left-hander Zac Curtis.

QUESTION MARKS
If Kapler requires flexibility from his relievers, will they buy in? Remember last season when Joaquin Benoit griped about not knowing when he might pitch in games? He spoke as if he were speaking for others in the bullpen. Benoit is not the first reliever to feel this way. Countless pitchers in the past have said they prefer to know their role in the bullpen, because it helps them prepare to pitch.

WHAT MIGHT CHANGE
It is unlikely the Phillies make further additions to the bullpen -- unless there is a free-agent talent willing to accept a club-friendly deal before Spring Training. The Phillies believe they have the makings of a strong bullpen. They will need it.

Todd Zolecki has covered the Phillies since 2003, and for MLB.com since 2009. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook and listen to his podcast.

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