Coming into spring training, it appeared that most of the bullpen spots were locked in. Assuming a 12-man pitching staff, that would leave seven potential bullpen spots. Six of those seven seemed to be guaranteed: John Axford, Kameron Loe, LaTroy Hawkins, Takashi Saito, Zach Braddock, and Manny Parra.
We’re less than two weeks away from Opening Day now, and only three of those six still look like locks to be in uniform against the Reds — Axford, Loe, and Saito (assuming he doesn’t decide to return to Japan, which seems less likely now that his wife and kids are in the States).
Hawkins is slowly working his way back from shoulder surgery, and may not be completely ready for game action by March 31. Parra has suffered from a mysterious back pain all spring, and had another setback the other day. Braddock has seemingly fallen out of favor with manager Ron Roenicke.
In the span of a few weeks, the bullpen has gone from looking solid and promising to being filled with question marks. That doesn’t mean that it will be a bad group, though. It just means we have even less of an idea about how well it will perform.
Essentially, there are possibly four spots (maybe five, depending on how things go in Japan) open now, opening doors for guys who have performed well thus far. I mentioned yesterday how I hate basing bullpen decisions on spring stats, but solid numbers will help guys like Brandon Kintzler, Sean Green, Mark DiFelice, and Justin James. Pat Egan, Michael Fiers, and Robert Hinton may also get a look. Mitch Stetter seems to be in good standing despite only pitching in two games due to Braddock struggling. Marco Estrada could make the 25-man as a long man and spot starter with Mark Rogers being sent down.
For the most part, I’m still excited about those guys. There are a lot of young arms in that group that give Milwaukee some good bullpen depth, but any time the bullpen situation is this fluid, it’s going to make people nervous.