Friday, September 25, 2009

Is Tyler Walker the Answer?

The Phils won in Milwaukee last night, 9-4. They ran up a lead that not even Brad Lidge could have blown (although Lidge didn't pitch), thanks to a 5-run inning in the 8th that included a 3-run homer by Jimmy Rollins (his 20th) of the season. The game marked the return of J. A. Happ, who pitched 5.1 solid innings in his second start since straining a rib cage muscle. The bullpen did a solid job, although Clay Condrey gave up two unearned runs in the bottom of the 9th to make the game closer than it should have been. The magic number is now 4 with ten games left to play.

Tyler Walker pitched the 8th inning last night. He struggled a little bit, but managed to get out of a jam without giving up a run. Walker may well be the best option for a closer that the Phillies have now, with Lidge as ineffective as he has been. Charlie Manuel was coy about the whole thing.

Chollie talked to reporters before the game, and the inevitable questions about who might close came up. One asked whether Tyler Walker might deserve a shot to close. "Yeah, I mean, that might be what we have to do," responded Manuel. "We'll see. Whatever we think. Whatever we want to do. I'll do that. We've got to win some games." When asked whether he would still stand by Lidge and Madson, he shrugged and said, "I don't know. You can call it whatever you want to call it." He reiterated his point that there weren't many available options. "If you look and se what our pitching situation is right now and who we have there, I mean, you know...."

Walker seems to be a viable option. He's been a closer before, posting 23 saves with the San Francisco Giants in 2005. He's been effective for the Phillies this year: He's held the other team scoreless in 23 of his 28 appearances, and opposing teams have batted only .215 against him. However, he nearly gave up a grand slam last night, when a long fly ball was caught on the warning track to end a major threat by the Brewers in the bottom of the 8th inning. Walker's problem is that he's effective, but not overpowering. He lacks a dominating out pitch like Madson's heater or Lidge's slider (when it's working).

The problem is that the other options aren't great. J.C. Romero remains injured, and has four saves in his career. He's a specialist against lefties and often will face only one or two hitters in an appearance. Chan Ho Park, out with a hamstring pull, has two saves in his career. Clay Condrey is not a closer. Brett Myers is hurt. That leaves a starter--either J. A. Happ or Pedro Martinez--as an option, but neither is suited to the role, and neither has much experience pitching out of the bullpen. Consequently, it's not known whether they have the ability to bounce back quickly after an appearance.

Thus, given the fact that neither Lidge nor Madson are effective as closers, Tyler Walker--shown in the photo above--seems to be the best choice by default. How he will perform in the role remains to be seen, but he can't do any worse than Lidge and Madson, who have 17 blown saves between them.

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