Didi rewards skip's faith to inch Phils near 1st

September 25th, 2021

PHILADELPHIA -- Joe Girardi issued a vote of confidence this week.

Despite the shortstop’s season-long struggles, both offensively and defensively, the Phillies’ manager said he planned to play Gregorius the rest of the season, even against left-handed pitching. First, Girardi said he values his experience in a pennant race. Second, he said if the Phillies want to make the postseason, they need Gregorius to hit. On Friday night, two days after Girardi made those comments, Gregorius ripped a two-out, three-run home run to right field in the seventh inning to give the Phillies a two-run lead in an 8-6 victory over Pittsburgh.

It moved the Phillies (80-74) within 1 1/2 games of the Braves (81-72) in the National League East with eight games to play.

“I haven’t been producing the whole year,” Gregorius said. “I’ve been working behind the scenes and doing all the things I need to do. I’m just trying to get better. These last couple games are really important, so I’m trying to do the best that I can as I go out there and try to be a big part of the offense.”

Gregorius’ importance in the Phillies’ final eight games might have grown even more because it sounds like they did not have Archie Bradley or Sam Coonrod available for more than just workload reasons. It explains why Cam Bedrosian started the seventh inning with a one-run lead. Bedrosian allowed a two-run home run to blow the Phillies’ 34th save of the season, which tied a Major League record with the 2004 Rockies.

It also explains why Girardi leaned on Héctor Neris for 1 2/3 scoreless innings. Neris threw 41 pitches, the most he has thrown in a game since he threw 46 on Aug. 27, 2015.

“Let’s just say I used the guys that were available to me tonight,” Girardi said. “We’ll leave it at that, and we’ll talk about it more tomorrow.”

So is it possible the absences of Bradley and Coonrod are more than just a one night thing?

“We’ll see,” Girardi said.

Gregorius has homered twice in the past two games. If he can erase his first five-plus months with a strong final week, it could take immense pressure off the pitching staff.

“I just think Didi’s too good of a player for it to continue,” Girardi said. “He’s been working his tail end off. I heard him hitting after a game for 45 minutes one night. That’s the one thing that a lot of times people don’t see, how frustrated the guys are and how they work and work and work.”

The Phillies signed Gregorius to a two-year, $28 million contract in the offseason. He was the last everyday shortstop on the market, but he also might have been the Phillies’ most consistent hitter in 2020, when he batted .284 with 10 home runs, 40 RBIs and an .827 OPS in 237 plate appearances. But Gregorius entered Friday night batting .210 with 12 homers, 49 RBIs and a .640 OPS in 378 plate appearances. He ranked 32nd out of 34 shortstops (minimum 350 plate appearances) with a 0.0 WAR, according to FanGraphs; and last out of 35 shortstops with -16 Outs Above Average, according to Statcast.

“It hasn’t bothered me,” Gregorius said about his struggles, “because we have eight games left and whatever happened at the beginning, I can’t do anything about it. I can only focus on what’s going on right now.”

Gregorius injured his right elbow in May, and he remained on the injured list through July 2. Doctors ultimately determined he has a condition called pseudogout, which is a form of arthritis caused by swelling.

Gregorius said he might need offseason surgery to fix the elbow, although no decision has been made.

After Bedrosian’s blown save, Bryce Harper walked and Andrew McCutchen reached on an infield single. Gregorius entered the night batting .148 with a .520 OPS against left-handed pitchers, so the Pirates must have liked their matchup with left-hander Chasen Shreve on the mound.

Shreve threw an 0-1 slider. Gregorius barreled it.

“It wasn't a terrible pitch,” Shreve said. “It was a slider down and away to a veteran hitter that was probably guessing he was going to get a slider and cheated and got the head out.”

Girardi’s faith in Gregorius was rewarded.

“He’s trying to get it right,” Girardi said. “And he got it right tonight.”