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Bastardo Has Been a Welcome Surprise

Injuries have opened the door for lefty dynamo to emerge as bullpen star.

When something or someone surprises Charles Fuqua Manuel, the venerable manager of the Phillies, it is newsworthy.  Therefore, when Ol’ Charlie stated that Antonio Bastardo was the biggest surprise of the 2011 edition of the Philadelphia Phillies, many observers took notice. 

What really impresses Charlie about Bastardo, is both his physical and mental approach to the game. It’s one thing to have a really strong arm, which Bastardo possesses. But he also consistently throws his pitches for strikes and has great command in the strike zone. Plus, he is not at all fazed by pressure situations with the game on the line. 

When spring training started in Clearwater, Antonio Bastardo was hardly a blip on the Phillies radar screen. 

As a left-handed relief specialist who was still working on his command, Bastardo was a long shot to make the ballclub, let alone be an integral part of its success.  After all, with veteran left-hander J.C. Romero returning and with other bullpen spots spoken for by closer Brad Lidge, Ryan Madson, Jose Contreras and Danys Baez and with others ranked ahead of him on the depth chart, it seemed certain Bastardo would spend the season at Lehigh Valley. 

But things did not go according to plan.

Lidge began the spring with rotator cuff soreness and during a rehab, also developed elbow soreness. That opened a spot on the major league roster, an opportunity which Bastardo seized with outstanding work in Clearwater.  

Jose Contreras was selected as the temporary closer, thus enabling Charlie Manuel to retain Ryan Madson in his customary eighth inning set-up role. Bastardo began to be utilized in Contreras’ former set-up role. 

Then an injury to Contreras moved Madson into the closer’s role thereby pushing young Bastardo into the critical eighth inning responsibility. Then, with Madson also sidelined, Bastardo actually became THE closer for a short period, a job he performed to perfection, saving all eight games he was called upon to finish.

Bastardo has been nothing short of sensational for the Phillies in 2011. At one point during this campaign, Antonio held batters hitless in thirty-nine at bats. That is the equivalent of pitching a thirteen inning no hitter. Only Detroit Tiger ace Justin Verlander, the odds on favorite to win the AL Cy Young Award, has exceeded that feat, holding hitters to an 0-46, earlier this year.

Through games of Wednesday Bastardo’s numbers are astounding, and perhaps only surpassed by Atlanta Braves set up southpaw Jonny Venters. Bastardo has a won-lost record of 6-0. His WHIP was a miniscule 0.75. In 50 2/3 innings,

Bastardo has allowed 19 hits, while issuing 19 free passes and striking out 62 men. Right-handed hitters were “hitting” .103 against him and lefties at .136.  

As he entered the September 1game at Cincinnati in the bottom of the seventh inning, protecting a 6-4 lead. Bastardo disposed of the NL MVP Joey Votto who represented the potential tying run by retiring him on a double play grounder and then struck out Jay Bruce, Juan Francisco and Yonder Alonso in the eighth.

That actually lowered his ERA to 1.38 and the overall batting average against him to .112 (19-170). Antonio has not allowed a base hit since August 21. In an almost surrealistic statistic, Bastardo is currently allowing an average of 3.25 hits per nine innings.

Bastardo has saved 8 games in 9 opportunities. Incredibly, Bastardo had inherited 29 baserunners and stranded 27 of them, for a superb percentage of 93%.  Whether it is long relief, set up or closing, Antonio Bastardo has provided Charlie Manuel with an assortment of options. Not bad for a pitcher who was considered to be a candidate for the bullpen of the Lehigh Valley IronPigs at the beginning of the 2011 season.

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