Knebel, Kyle Schwarber and Kyle Gibson spoke with Girardi again in his office ahead of Wednesday’s game.
“We’re on the same page,” Knebel said. “I mean, it’s his rule. That’s it. Not three days in a row for relievers this early in the season.
Here’s what sparked those conversations: Bryce Harper hit a two-run homer in the ninth inning Tuesday to give the Phillies a one-run lead. Nick Nelson, who pitched a scoreless eighth, came back to pitch the ninth. It was the first time in Nelson’s career that he pitched the ninth with a less than eight-point lead. Ten pitches later, the Phillies lost. Afterwards, Girardi said Knebel, Seranthony Domínguez and Juerys Familia were unavailable. Knebel threw 23 pitches on Sunday and nine pitches on Monday. He told Girardi he could pitch on Tuesday, but Girardi said no. He has a policy of not throwing relievers on three consecutive days, especially early in the season. Girardi said Knebel’s fastball speed went from a season average of 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 wanting the ball, but we have a long year,” Girardi said. “I’m not going to hurt you because, if you hurt your closest one, those people are hard to replace. I think that’s what Corey Knebel is. If I offer him the ball seven days in a row, he will take the ball seven days in a row. But that’s what I do. Too many relievers get hurt. Too much.
But while Knebel said everyone was on the same page, he added: “We both agreed it was 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 dominated, so yes. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. That’s it.”
Girardi mentioned during his introductory press conference with the Phillies in 2019 that he doesn’t like using pitchers on three straight days, citing their health and efficiency. He said the real price was in October.
In his final three seasons as Yankees manager, Girardi didn’t use a reliever for three straight days in 2015. He did so nine times in 2016 and seven times in 2017.
Girardi has used a Phillies reliever three straight days only six times since becoming a coach. It’s 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) have led the way over the past three seasons.
But is it tempting to change that policy on a night like Tuesday, given the importance of the games and the fact that he is in the final year of his contract?
Girardi takes a lot of heat for this.
“Who cares if I take all the heat?” said Girardi. “It’s my job.
“What happened if Corey Knebel went to IL for 20 days? So why use it three days in a row? It’s all part of being a manager. You are going to be guessed all the time. I’m used to it. I’ve been successful in some pretty big markets. I’m used to it. I’ve been successful in some playoffs. I’m used to it. I was asked about going to a three-man rotation in the World Series. It’s part of the job. That’s what everyone does, right? Talk radio wouldn’t have a voice if everyone didn’t manage and coach and guess, but that’s what makes our sport great. Everyone has different ideas, right? I have my ideas, you have your ideas. It is what it is. Everything you do. You’re asked about programming, you’re asked about positioning, you’re asked about rain, you’re asked about everything.
Girardi said the front office never asked him about it.
“Again, go see how many relievers are on the IL,” he said. “Look how many guys had Tommy John last year or were injured. We’ve been pretty lucky here, right? And you win in the long run. You don’t win in 40 games. You win over 162 games, and the way you win is to keep people healthy because people are not replaceable Some people are not replaceable.
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