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April 30, 1999

NL East Notebook

Bobby Cox, the Phillies bullpen, and Todd Pratt

by Keith Law

Et Tu, Bobby?

Although a fair amount of ink has been spilled on the Braves' supposed bullpen woes this season, there wasn't much evidence that Bobby Cox had started worrying about it. But Tuesday night's display of Leylanditis Chronicus should have all Braves' fans concerned. With 20-year-old rookie Odalis Perez already over 100 pitches, Cox first let his young starter bat in the seventh with a 3-2 lead, one out and a runner on second base. The, he sent a clearly tired Perez out in the eighth, and his control deserted him. Cox left him in until his pitch count hit 120--and the lead was gone.

Cox' abuse of a talented young arm is indefensible. Even more perturbing is his reluctance to go to the pen--even though his relievers have been better than advertised. Rudy Seanez and Mike Remlinger have each posted ERAs under two while allowing one baserunner per inning or fewer. John Rocker has been solid except for one poor outing in Colorado. Among lesser lights, Justin Speier has surprised early with some strong performances, and Kevin McGlinchy has pitched moderately well while struggling with his control. Since this wasn't a problem for him in the minors, there's reason to believe it's fixable.

Cox has no reason to fear his bullpen, despite the lack of a "proven" closer and ESPN's relentless flogging of just this point. If Bruce Chen is to replace Kevin Millwood at some point, giving the Braves two fragile young arms at the back of their rotation, Cox had better learn the bullpen's number by heart, or risk blowing out some immense talents.

And the Worst Part Is, Ron Gant Is Still Healthy

Speaking of bullpens, how about the Phillies'? They had two relievers with ERAs under 4.50 before Thursday's games. One, Jim Poole, is a lefty specialist who posted his numbers in a whopping 3 2/3 IP. The other, Jeff Brantley, is now out for up to four months after surgery. The only other reliever they have with an ERA under 5.00 is Mike Grace, whose medical records read like a Tolstoy novel and who shouldn't be used more than twice a week, lest he pop a ligament.

Most of the focus will be on who will move into the ninth-inning closer role, but the Phils should be equally concerned about innings six through eight, given their rotation. Wayne Gomes has lost the control he seemingly found last year, and the league is hitting over .300 against him to boot. Ken Ryan is struggling with the control problems he's had since his 1997 surgery. And they're the best relievers the Phils have left.

Expect Curt Schilling to throw close to 300 innings this year, and don't be shocked if the Phils try to swing a minor trade for a reliever.

Prattle and Hum

So the Mets "survived" without Mike Piazza. Perhaps it's because they had a backup who could play ahead of half the starters in baseball: Todd Pratt.

Pratt is certainly not in Piazza's class as a hitter, but he's pretty good in his own right, slugging over .500 twice in small samples and going .280/.344/.446 in his two previous years with the Mets. Even a hitter as good as Piazza isn't worth an extra win a week over a guy like Pratt, so the fact that the Mets played as well without Piazza as you might expect them to play with him isn't all that surprising. As for Pratt, teams still screwing around with Scott Servais and Matt Walbeck should take notice.

Related Content:  Bobby Cox

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