Heading into a 2009 season in which they are hoping to defend their World Series title, the Phillies were banking on the fact that they'd have the National League's best bullpen from '08 almost completely intact.

Now, after what transpired with left-hander J.C. Romero on Tuesday morning, they'll have a big hole to fill for the eighth inning.

Romero was suspended for the first 50 games of the 2009 regular season after testing positive under Major League Baseball's Drug Policy for an over-the-counter substance that he didn't feel was illegal.

Fair or not, the Phillies now have to address the loss of one of the biggest pieces to their bullpen quickly, with pitchers and catchers set to report to Clearwater, Fla., on Feb. 14.

During a conference call on Tuesday, Phillies general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. said the club will do what it's been doing since closer Brad Lidge fired the final pitch to secure the title: look for pitching.

"As we have done throughout this offseason, we continue to try to improve the club, and pitching always seems to be the priority and will continue to be the priority," Amaro said.

"We have been looking at several opportunities. I'm not going to be specific, but we've worked on, and are in the process of, adding depth to our staff."

Romero, 32, went 4-4 with a 2.75 ERA in 2008, and the lefty was the winning pitcher in two games of the World Series against the Rays, including the Game 5 clincher. Now, the setup man from Puerto Rico, who was so valuable to a Phillies bullpen that compiled a team ERA of 3.22 during the '08 regular season, won't be available to pitch until at least June 1.

In the meantime, Romero will be allowed to participate in Spring Training, and Amaro plans on using him in Grapefruit League games. Once the season starts, Phillies assistant general manager Scott Proefrock said Romero will likely go into an extended spring program and, as he gets closer to the 50-game mark, go on a 16-day rehab assignment.

Hot Stove

His status for the World Baseball Classic has yet to be determined.

Currently, the Phillies have only one experienced southpaw, Scott Eyre, in the bullpen. But J.A. Happ, who is expected to compete for the fifth spot in the starting rotation, can be an option in the 'pen if he doesn't beat out Kyle Kendrick, Carlos Carrasco or Chan Ho Park.

Some lefty relievers who are still available in free agency include Joe Beimel, Casey Fossum, Eddie Guardado, Will Ohman, Dennys Reyes, Ricardo Rincon and Brian Shouse. But don't expect the Phillies to spend top dollar for another reliever.

As Amaro hinted, this situation could likely be resolved internally.

"We very well have to deal with that need from within," Amaro said. "Spring Training is a great time for competition. It's a tough time evaluating guys, but it's a great time to have young players compete, and we'll certainly give people the opportunity to do that.

"There was going to be competition anyway for the fifth spot and competition in the bullpen. There are only a few guys who had locked positions in those areas, and there was going to be competition anyway."