The Phillies bullpen is a mess. The middle relievers and the set up guys are struggling to get anyone out. Even the $50 million closer gets rocked by a Mets rookie with a three run home run this week that turned out to be the game winner. Yet, for reasons only known to General Manager Ruben Amaro Jr., the reliever who has the best record in the organization, Jake Diekman, is still stuck in bullpens at AAA. Jake just might be the best left-handed reliever not in the major leagues.
After picking up his fifth save in five opportunities on Saturday night, Jake and the Lehigh Valley IronPigs were rewarded after Sunday’s game with a 630 mile, ten hour bus ride to Indianapolis to play Pittsburgh’s top farm Monday evening. So much for living in the “iron lung” and the great life at AAA.
Last Saturday night at Coca Cola Park in Allentown, Diekman pitched in two innings where he retired the side in order each inning. After that game Manager Ryne Sandberg told the Allentown Morning Call the following about Diekman, “He has two major league pitches with great command. He’s tough to handle and he’s efficient with his pitches and that allows him to bounce back quickly.”
Baseball Betsy and I have watched Diekman pitch the last couple of years. Several years ago we made a quick Columbus Day weekend trip to Clearwater for the final game of the Florida Instructional League that season. I went out to the bullpen at Bright House and watched Diekman throw his side winding delivery and was impress with the movement of his pitches. He came into the game as a set up guy in the eight inning and retired the Tigers instructs that day. You knew then the Phillies had something special.
We saw him pitch last season in Reading and the problem was always command. He was pitching behind too many times to be trusted in critical situations. It was exciting to sit behind home plate and watch him pitch with his side arm release point from the far side of the mound with the ball heading at a left-handed batter. His ball would move with high velocity quickly from one side of the batter’s box to the other. After coming into his own in the Arizona Fall League, Jake was added to the major league 40 man roster this winter. In spring training, to go along with his mid 90’s fastball, he seemed to master the command of the back foot slider to right-handed hitters. That has made him what he is today.
What Jake has become is one of the top left-handed relievers not only in AAA but maybe baseball. So far after 12 games in relief with the IronPigs he is 1-0 with a 0.63 ERA, striking out 22 in 14.1 innings. Most importantly he has walked only three batters.
The great mystery remains is why he is not sitting in the Phillies bullpen at Citizens Bank Park but still riding a bus across the Appalachian mountains and the cornfield fields of Ohio and Indiana in search of minor league bullpens?