Girardi addresses criticism, Phils' struggles

June 27th, 2021

NEW YORK – Joe Girardi is not used to losing.

But the Phillies are losing. They are 64-71 (.474) in 135 games since he became manager in 2020. Girardi, who never experienced a losing season in 10 years as Yankees manager, has navigated through a minefield of poor defense and relief pitching in that time. Both hurt the Phillies numerous times last week, including six blown saves in four games from Wednesday through Saturday and costly errors in the final inning that led to three blown saves on Friday and Saturday against the Mets at Citi Field.

Girardi’s in-game decisions have come under more scrutiny, too.

In that dreaded four-game stretch last week, he pitched David Hale on Wednesday in a critical spot in the sixth inning of a 13-12 loss to the Nationals because he said four other relievers were unavailable. Six runs came home while Hale was on the mound, including a pinch-hit grand slam. Hale was designated for assignment over the weekend and is no longer with the team. Girardi pulled Zach Eflin on Saturday after one run in six innings and 82 pitches. Eflin finished his seventh-inning warmups when Girardi went to the mound because he wanted Ranger Suárez to face pinch-hitter Jeff McNeil. The change caught everybody off guard, including Eflin. Suárez allowed a game-tying home run two batters later.

“Look, there are a million moves that you make a day in this game, right?” Girardi said on Sunday morning at Citi Field. “I mean, there are a million decisions that you have to make a day. And the one that doesn’t work out, you’re going to be criticized. That’s just the way it is. That’s the nature of the game. I don’t worry about it. My decisions are based on a lot of homework that we do as a group. And then you make the decision and you live it.

“You’ve got to remember, too, the other team is actually trying, right? They’re paid to actually beat whoever you throw out there.”

The Phillies have 20 blown saves in 75 games. The franchise record is 25 in 162 games in 2004. Their save percentage (45.9 percent) would be the lowest in franchise history. They had a 47.8 save percentage in 2020, when they had the highest bullpen ERA in baseball in 90 years.

But Girardi said it is more than just a pitcher making a bad pitch. It is a pitcher often being forced to make too many pitches.

“A lot of our mistakes the last few days have been defense,” Girardi said. “So, I mean, you can put it on the bullpen, but it’s been the defense. Every crucial inning we’ve had an error that’s led to runs. Runs lead to extra pitches for pitchers. Pitchers don’t go as deep. Bullpen guys can’t go as often. You can’t just look at what it does to allow a baserunner. It changes a lot of things.

“Archie [Bradley] came in the other day, right? An error led to him giving up a run. It’s a blown save. [José] Alvarado’s error led to him giving up a run. It’s a blown save. These guys have been hit by the error.”

Rhys Hoskins committed a costly error that sparked a two-run rally in Héctor Neris’ blown save on Saturday. Hoskins was working early Sunday morning on his defense with infield coach Juan Castro.

“They work every day at it,” Girardi said about his infielders. “We do live fungoes. We do everything to try to make sure they’re as prepared as possible. We’re just in a little rut right now. But our defense, it’s been tough all year. And everything is magnified when you don’t score runs. Everything. We’ve lost 3-2, 2-1 and 4-3 [this weekend to the Mets].”

Girardi pulled Eflin on Saturday because the Mets pinch-hit McNeil to start the seventh. Left-handers have an .806 OPS against Eflin this season, compared to righties owning a .753 OPS against him. Suárez has allowed a .352 OPS against left-handers.

Girardi had no regrets on Sunday.

“Everyone a few days ago was saying, 'Well, what’s going on with Eflin?'” Girardi said. “Right? You know what I’m saying? Lefties, he’s obviously been much better vs. right-handers than left-handers, right? So, I knew McNeil and [Billy] McKinney could hit and [Luis] Guillorme is coming up. I just said, you know what? You’ve got [Michael] Conforto coming. This is the time to use Ranger.”

But again, it led to another gut-wrenching loss. It seems like the Phillies have a couple of them every week.

“It’s not fun,” Girardi said. “I mean, [the job] is fun, but it’s frustrating at times. But I’m the same guy every day. I’m optimistic. I told the guys, it’s going to turn around. Keep fighting, keep fighting. That’s all we can do.”

In the meantime, Girardi knows he will be ripped whenever his moves don’t work. This is the big leagues, after all. It is big business.

Wins and losses are the only things that matter.

“That’s the way it is,” Girardi said. “So, the bottom line is, if you make a decision in the ninth inning and it doesn’t work, you’re going to be criticized. That’s OK.”