At least in terms of rhetoric, new Philadelphia Phillies manager Joe Girardi has differing views on the bullpen than his predecessor did.
Girardi says that in an ideal world, he’ll not only have a set closer, but a routine for getting the ball from the starting pitcher to the closer with the lead intact.
“Yes, I would love to have that [one set closer],” Girardi said this week to Angelo Cataldi on SportsRadio 94 WIP. “And I would love to have two or three guys with the ability to pitch in the eighth inning.”
“You want to define the roles as much as you can so players can prepare themselves,” Girardi continued. “I look at it as if you come into your office every day and things are in a different spot, you get frustrated…or if you’re not sure what your role is.”
Former Phillies manager Gabe Kapler wasn’t as traditional in terms of assigning bullpen roles, instead opting to use relievers in different innings based on how the game played out and matchups presented themselves.
There’s some logic in this approach, but it is easier for relievers to prepare if they have a general idea of what type of situation they’ll enter the game in. As former Phillies closer Ricky Bottalico would often say on NBC Sports Philadelphia‘s coverage of the games, not all relievers are mentally equipped to pitch in the ninth inning, even if on paper they profile well in a given situation.
All that acknowledged, Kapler didn’t exactly have Mariano Rivera, Andrew Miller, Dellin Betances or – for the most part – David Robertson to hand the ball to in the bullpen, as Girardi did for stretches of his 10 years as the manager of the New York Yankees. As general manager Matt Klentak said in June of 2018, if Kapler had Brad Lidge, Billy Wagner or Jonathan Papelbon to hand the ball to, they would have been his closer. He didn’t.
The Phillies probably would have liked the aforementioned Robertson to seize the closer’s job after signing a lucrative two-year deal last offseason. Instead, he appeared in just seven games before ultimately undergoing Tommy John surgery in August. If he pitches at all this season, it won’t be until the waning weeks of the regular season.
Seranthony Dominguez didn’t require Tommy John surgery after suffering a UCL injury in early June, but he didn’t return at all in 2019. Dominguez was expected to be the Phillies best reliever after posting a 2.85 FIP in his rookie season of 2018. At last check, he’s “chomping at the bit” to get back on the mound in 2020.
Tommy Hunter and Pat Neshek, both of whom signed free-agent deals with the Phillies prior to the 2018 season, pitched in 25 combined games in 2019. Neither is currently under contract with the Phillies, or any other team.
Victor Arano, who posted a 2.73 ERA in 60 games in 2018, had his right elbow scoped in late May, an injury he never returned from.
After not allowing a run in his first 16 appearances of 2019, Adam Morgan pitched in just 10 games after the All-Star Break, finishing the season on the injured list with a flexor strain.
Kapler’s only two reliable relievers in 2019 were Hector Neris and Jose Alvarez. If you need an idea of how unpredictable relievers are from year to year, in June of 2018, Neris was optioned to Triple-A because he was struggling so much. Alvarez was pitching for the Los Angeles Angels.
Girardi has made a point of saying multiple times this offseason that the bullpen needs to stay healthy for the Phillies to be successful in 2020. It sounds simple, but that didn’t happen in 2019. Whether the bullpen stays healthy or not is largely out of the manager’s control – he works with what he has available to him. For the Phillies to snap an eight-year postseason drought in Girardi’s first season at the helm, he’ll need to get much better luck in terms of relievers staying healthy than Kapler got in 2019. He’ll need to get it from much of the same cast that spent chunks of time on the injured list a season ago.
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