Nola, Phillies open camp with fresh optimism

Girardi on 2021 mindset: 'We're in this to win it'

February 17th, 2021

PHILADELPHIA -- Phillies right-hander smiled when asked about his reaction to last month’s news that the Phillies re-signed .

“Oh, ecstatic, man,” he said Wednesday from Clearwater, Fla.

It is funny how feelings and perspectives can change over the course of a few months. Nola started the Phillies’ final game of the 2020 season against the Rays. If he pitched well and the Phillies won, they would have made the postseason for the first time since 2011. But Nola struggled and lasted only 3 2/3 innings in a 5-0 loss. A couple of weeks later, the Phillies removed Matt Klentak as general manager and indicated both publicly and privately that they might not re-sign Realmuto or , or make the upgrades needed to improve the rotation and bullpen. The Phillies even said they might not hire Klentak’s replacement until after the 2021 season, potentially moving forward with Klentak’s right-hand man Ned Rice as interim GM.

But then the Phillies hired Dave Dombrowski as president of baseball operations in December, and everything changed. The Phillies re-signed Realmuto and Gregorius. They addressed the depth in the rotation and bullpen.

It made for a more upbeat first workout for Phillies pitchers and catchers than anticipated in the fall. Well, perhaps not in the minds of everybody.

“From my standpoint, I wasn't really concerned,” Nola said. “I just had a feeling we'd sign J.T. back and Didi back, and I'm really glad we did.”

The Phillies seem to be better on paper this spring than last spring. They added relievers , and to the 40-man roster. They made some smart moves in signing veteran relievers like Tony Watson, and to Minor League contracts with invites to Spring Training. They signed veterans and to one-year contracts to compete with and for the final two jobs in the rotation.

There is less of a “throw some names against a wall and hope they stick” feeling in camp.

“My initial thought is that it’s substantially better because there’s more experience,” manager Joe Girardi said about the pitching compared to last spring. “The guys we brought in to compete for spots in the bullpen have experience. One guy was second in saves last year in the National League in Kintzler. A lot of these guys have five years of experience, seven years of experience, 10 years of experience.”

The only team to hold more leads in the NL last season than the Phillies was the Dodgers, who won the World Series.

The Phillies felt they were close last year, which is why they feel like they are right there now.

“We’re in this to win it,” Girardi said. “That’s why we’re here. I really believe that we’re going to try to formulate the best team possible.

“I think what [managing partner] John Middleton did and the Buck family did by allowing us to spend the money on payroll that we did -- they’re making a commitment to winning and telling the fans we’re going for it, and I applaud them for that because obviously they had losses last year, everybody had losses last year, but they really stepped up, and now it’s up to us to reward them.”

Maybe Nola will get another opportunity to pitch in a big game on the final weekend of the season. Maybe this time it goes better.

“It sat with me,” Nola said. “I mean, I was on the mound that last game. And just to know that we missed it by a game, it does sting a little bit. And I think we carry that into this year and we learn from what we did. It kind of lets you know that, even through 162 games, every single game counts. Every single game matters, and I feel like the older I get and the older the other guys get … you realize it a little bit more.”

Said Girardi: “I think there's a mindset of determination to complete the task. That's the mindset.”