The Phillies blew their 23rd lead of the season against the Miami Marlins on Wednesday. Starter Aaron Nola was pulled after giving up four-consecutive singles to tie the game at 5-5. With runners on the corners and two away, manager Joe Girardi brought in Neftalí Féliz to get the final out of a brutal fifth inning.
Féliz found himself in a similar situation two days ago. Making his first MLB appearance since 2017, the former AL Rookie of the Year came on with a runner at first, one out and a two-run lead. Following a walk, strikeout and hit batsman, Nick Castellanos hit a grand slam. Just like that, a two-run lead turned into a two-run deficit.
So why did Girardi put Féliz in another high-pressure situation?
“My bullpen was extremely limited,” Girardi said. “I had no [José] Alvarado, I had no [Bailey] Falter, I had no Ranger [Suarez]. Ranger got back spasms playing catch today. I had five guys to finish that game. I wanted to get multiple innings out of Héctor [Neris] because he was the most rested. [Enyel De Los Santos], I would have liked to stay away from him today, but I couldn’t. I was really limited in my choices.”
Féliz, Neris, De Los Santos, Brogdon and Bradley were the five pitchers he had to get through the rest of the game. Girardi has strictly adhered to his bullpen usage rules throughout the season. He won’t use a guy three days in a row. A 30-pitch outing for a reliever most likely means he won’t be available the next day. If Girardi believes a pitcher needs an extra day, he’ll give it to him. It’s rare for Girardi to use a reliever four out of five days.
Girardi is right in that he was short on options, but it doesn’t justify using Féliz in the spot that he did. After facing nine batters and getting only two outs, Féliz’s days on the team could be numbered. It also sounds like Girardi is also feeling the heat.
“Obviously, this is a performance-based business, right?” Girardi said. “And you have to perform or changes are made. And that’s for everyone and it includes me too, right? If the team doesn’t perform to the standards, I’m the one that’s in charge and I’m the one that is responsible. It’s the business we live in.”
The Phillies are 37-41 through 78 games. They are 65-73 with Girardi as manager. Maybe the Phillies lose anyway if they bring in Brogdon or Bradley in the fifth inning of Wednesday’s game. With just about every Phillies reliever struggling to a certain extent, it feels as though any move Girardi could have made came with a low probability of a positive outcome.
To quote the familiar non-answer Girardi gave the media during his time in New York: “It’s not what you want.”
When Girardi first addressed the Philadelphia media at his introductory news conference in Oct. 2019, the former World Series-winning manager said he believed that the Phillies were one of the best chances he had to win again. The word dedication came up a lot. The hope was that Girardi’s hiring would help the Phillies develop a winning culture revolved around trust. They gave him a three-year deal with a club option for a fourth season.
Believe it or not, there’s still time for the Phillies to salvage their season. Despite a brutal week in which they have had a lead in all five of their previous losses, they are still five games out of first place. It’s exactly where they were when they left Philadelphia for the most important series of the season in New York at this time last week.
“I believe we can,” Girardi said when asked if he thinks the team can play to his standards, “but we have to start doing it. I mean, that’s the bottom line. And there’s been a myriad of issues that we’ve had during the course of time, whether it’s pitching, defense, hitting, there’s been a number of things but we’ve gotta turn this around.”
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