WASHINGTON -- It has been a tough season for the Phillies' bullpen, despite the fact that it entered Saturday with the third-fewest innings pitched in the Majors.
Phillies relievers have been too wild, with a league-worst 10.6 percent walk rate, and too hittable, with a .255 opponents' average that ranks 27th. The result has been a 4.18 ERA (28th in MLB) and a 1.44 WHIP (29th).
But an 11-man bullpen bolstered with September callups has picked up its game of late, and interim manager Ryne Sandberg likes what he's seeing, especially with the future in mind.
"I think they're on a roll, as a group," Sandberg said. "Sometimes, that can snowball out there. As a whole, they've done a good job, kept us in games, and that's allowed us to have some late-inning wins that we've pulled out."
In a small sample of five games, Philadelphia relievers have combined to hold the opposition to one run over their past 15 1/3 innings, delivering 8 1/3 scoreless the past two days. They have allowed seven hits and one walk while striking out 16, and a free pass issued on Friday night by Zach Miner was the group's first since Sept. 4.
Sandberg singled out left-hander Cesar Jimenez, who struck out Washington's Adam LaRoche with the bases loaded in Friday's fifth inning. The 28-year-old, signed as a free agent last winter, has a 2.13 ERA and has allowed a run in only one of 13 appearances. Lefties are 3-for-21 (.143) against Jimenez, with one double, one walk and six strikeouts.
"He comes in throwing strikes and he mixes his pitches," Sandberg said. "But he seems to really get ahead of the hitters coming out of the 'pen, right from the get-go, and he's been good as a situational type of guy."
Jimenez is just one of the relievers the Phillies are trying to get a look at for a possible role on next year's club. Miner and closer Jonathan Papelbon are the only members of the bullpen who are 30 or older. Eight relievers are 27 or younger.
"The writing's pretty much on the wall to them, and they look at it as an opportunity," Sandberg said. "So, with opportunity comes a chance to do it, and when they do well, that's experience. It all works together, and like I said, that could be part of the process the team has gone through this year, with the way things have gone. It could turn into a big positive next year.
"Without these innings pitched, these guys possibly would have gone into next year with a lack of experience and confidence, and maybe they'd have to grow next year instead of this year."
• Outfielder Domonic Brown, recovering from a right Achilles injury, is available to pinch-hit on Saturday night and might start on Sunday afternoon, according to Phillies interim manager RyneSandberg. Brown grounded into a game-ending double play as a pinch-hitter on Friday night, his first action since Sept. 1. He hasn't started a game since Aug. 30.
• Sandberg said right-handed reliever Luis Garcia was unavailable for Saturday's game after taking a hard ground ball from Wilson Ramos off his left foot on Friday. Garcia had the area heavily taped and appeared to be walking with a limp in the clubhouse on Saturday, and Sandberg said he is dealing with a bruise and some soreness.
• Facing a Nationals team still fighting for a playoff berth this weekend, Sandberg said that Major League Baseball's two Wild Card system has "grown on" him.
"I'm in favor of that, to see the effect on baseball, to get some other teams to fight to the finish," he said. "I think it's very good."