In what could go down as the most devastating loss of the 2020 season, Joe Girardi was in a tough spot.
The Phillies took a narrow 7-6 lead over the Washington Nationals in the second game of a doubleheader Tuesday. It was a bullpen game and six pitchers were already used. His remaining choices were the following: Connor Brogdon, Ramón Rosso, Ranger Suárez and Brandon Workman. Blake Parker was someone Girardi wanted to stay away from after throwing 31 pitches the night before. Rosso may have also been unavailable after throwing 28 pitches on Monday.
The Phillies skipper went with the six-year veteran Workman. All of his other options had less than a year of service time and have not pitched in a spot as tight as this one. As of Friday, Workman has thrown 54 innings classified as “high-leverage” and has limited opponents to a .740 OPS. He’s been good enough in these situations in the past, but things have taken a turn for the worst.
Workman was relegated to a middle-relief role last Sunday after struggling mightily since coming over from Boston but Girardi went with Workman.
“We went with the experience,” Girardi said when asked about his decision last Wednesday. “Someone that’s been in those situations before. Not that we don’t believe in our kids but there’s an emotional state that you think about in those situations.”
As a result, Workman sent Phillies fans across the world into a debilitating emotional state. The eighth-inning walk-off home run he surrendered to 32-year-old rookie Yaidel Hernandez plummeted the Phillies playoffs odds.
It’s easy to wonder if Girardi would have gone with another arm if he had a do-over. It can be argued that JoJo Romero’s third-inning three-run home run to Juan Soto was the most costly hit of the game. Romero has been fantastic since being called up from Lehigh Valley but everyone in the Phillies bullpen gets their day of reckoning. Who could Girardi have trusted in that situation when your best young bullpen arm burned you?
The correct answer is perhaps nobody. Everyone has let Girardi down at some point, but he had to pick someone.
Maybe the outlook on the Phillies’ playoff chances is completely different if Brogdon came in, stranded the ghost runner at second and held the lead. The 25-year-old threw 5 2/3 shutout innings since returning from Lehigh Valley. He struggled to get into a rhythm when he was first called up, but he looks like a completely different pitcher since getting a second chance this season. Girardi himself admitted that he’s looked fantastic in recent days.
“We have been really impressed with what Connor has done,” Girardi said on Sept. 21. “I think he’s gotten over that initial nervousness that every first-timer has no matter who you are and I think he’s made adjustments.”
His fastball average velocity has increased from 93 mph in his debut to 96 mph in his last outing on Thursday. His changeup can both induce ground balls and generate whiffs and his cutter is a sneaky good weapon against righties. All things considered, could Girardi rely on Brogdon to get big outs?
“I do. I think he has the ability to get big outs because I think he has weapons and he locates well.”
Girardi said that two days before Workman’s egregious meltdown. He’ll have another chance rely on his young arms in the bullpen.
The Phillies manager will have Brogdon, Suárez and Spencer Howard at his disposal this weekend. Howard replaces Rosso in the ‘pen, who was impressive in his last outing against Washington. He’ll use them when he needs too, but will he put his trust in them when the game is on the line?
“I think you’re going to have to trust them some,” Girardi said Friday afternoon. “I’ve trusted them some during the course of the season too. We’ve put faith in them. We’ll continue to do that. We’ll look up what matchups work best for them to try to get important outs and we’ll use them.”
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