ATLANTA — Corey Knebel and Joe Girardi talked immediately following Tuesday night’s 6-5 loss to the Braves at Truist Park.
Knebel, Kyle Schwarber and Kyle Gibson talked with Girardi again in his office before Wednesday’s game.
“We’re on the same page,” Knebel said. “I mean, that’s his rule. That’s it. No three days in a row for relievers this early in the season.”
Here is what prompted those conversations: Bryce Harper hit a two-run, go-ahead home run in the ninth inning Tuesday to give the Phillies a one-run lead. Nick Nelson, who pitched a scoreless eighth, returned to pitch the ninth. It was the first time in Nelson’s career he pitched the ninth with a lead under eight runs. Ten pitches later, the Phillies lost. Afterward, Girardi said Knebel, Seranthony Domínguez and Juerys Familia were unavailable. Knebel threw 23 pitches Sunday and nine pitches Monday. He told Girardi that he could pitch Tuesday, but Girardi said no. He has a policy against pitching relievers three consecutive days, especially early in the season. Girardi mentioned that Knebel’s fastball velocity dropped from a season average 95.3 mph to 94.1 mph on Monday.
“I said, ‘Look, you threw a bunch of pitches on Sunday. You threw a bunch of pitches on Monday. I appreciate you want the ball, but we’ve got a long year,’” Girardi said. “I’m not going to hurt you because, if you hurt your closer, those people are hard to replace. I think that’s who Corey Knebel is. If I offer him the ball seven days in a row, he’d take the ball seven days in a row. But it’s what I do. There’s too many relievers that are getting hurt. Way too many.”
But while Knebel said everybody is on the same page, he added, “We both agreed that that’s my game. We’re going to lose, it’s my game to lose. That’s it. Don’t put that on Nellie. But I think we had a great conversation. Nelson’s been dominating, so yeah. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. That’s it.”
Girardi mentioned at his introductory news conference with the Phillies in 2019 that he does not like to use pitchers three consecutive days, citing their health and effectiveness. He said the real prize is in October.
In his final three seasons as Yankees manager, Girardi did not use a reliever on three consecutive days in 2015. He did it nine times in 2016, and seven times in 2017.
Girardi has used a Phillies reliever three consecutive days only six times since becoming manager. It has happened 229 times in the big leagues over the past three seasons, including 24 this year. The Nationals (20), Red Sox (19), Royals (19), Giants (15), Dodgers (13) and Angels (13) lead the way over the past three seasons.
But is it tempting to change that policy on a night like Tuesday, considering the importance of the games and considering he is in the final year of his contract?
Girardi is taking a lot of heat for it.
“Who cares that I take all the heat?” Girardi said. “That’s my job.
“What happened if Corey Knebel goes on the IL for 20 days? So, why use him three days in a row? This is all part of being a manager. You’re going to be second-guessed all the time. I’m used to it. I’ve managed in some fairly large markets. I’m used to it. I’ve managed in some playoffs. I’m used to it. I was questioned about going to a three-man rotation in the World Series. It’s part of the job. It’s what everyone does, right? Talk radio wouldn’t have a voice if everyone wasn’t managing and coaching and second-guessing, but that’s what makes our sport great. Everyone has different ideas, right? I have my ideas, you have your ideas. It’s what it is. Everything you do. You get questioned about the lineup, you get questioned about positioning, you get questioned about the rain, you get questioned about everything.”
Girardi said the front office has never questioned him about it, however.
“Again, go look at how many relievers are on the IL,” he said. “Look how many guys had Tommy John last year or were hurt. We’ve been pretty lucky here, right? And you win over the long haul. You don’t win in 40 games. You win over 162 games, and the way you win is by keeping people healthy because people aren’t replaceable. Certain people aren’t replaceable.”