Phillies left-hander Bailey Falter had pitched beautifully for four scoreless innings on Monday night at Great American Ball Park.
He struck out six. He generated weak contact throughout. He put the Phillies in position to win their first two-city road trip since Sept. 2-8, 2019. But after Falter allowed a one-out pinch-hit single in the seventh, Phillies manager Joe Girardi thought the reliever had reached his limit at a season-high 66 pitches. He summoned Neftalí Feliz from the bullpen to protect a two-run lead. Feliz had not pitched in the big leagues since Aug. 13, 2017. He walked a batter, hit a batter and served up a grand slam to Nick Castellanos in a 12-4 loss.
It was the Phillies’ seventh blown save in six games. It was their 21st blown save of the season.
Girardi tried to explain why he chose Feliz for that critical moment. The manager is typically self-assured when he speaks after games, even when his in-game decisions do not work. He always has reasons why he makes certain moves. But Monday seemed to be the first time this season that he could not offer a clear explanation.
Héctor Neris and Connor Brogdon looked like better options at that moment, even with Neris’ recent struggles. Neris threw seven pitches on Friday and 27 pitches on Saturday. Brogdon threw 12 pitches on Friday and eight on Saturday.
Both were available.
“Well, obviously, I could have [gone] to Héctor [Neris], I guess,” Girardi said. “I was not using Archie [Bradley] tonight. He needed a day [off]. I could have [gone] to [Connor] Brogdon. We liked Neftalí against that group of guys, and it just didn’t work out. You know, walk, hit batsman and it led to the big inning.”
But then there is Girardi's decision to pull Falter. The Reds put only seven balls in play against him, with an average exit velocity of 83.6 mph. It was one of the lowest averages by a Phillies pitcher (minimum five balls in play) this season.
Falter had not thrown more than 49 pitches for the Phillies, but he threw 80 pitches on May 29 with Triple-A Lehigh Valley. He threw 88 on June 4. It was his last start before he joined the Phillies to piggyback Spencer Howard and Vince Velasquez.
“It’s been a while since he’s been there,” Girardi said. “We just thought physically he was done. I guess I could have [kept him in], right? But then I probably would have let him face a couple more and I just wasn’t comfortable doing that.”
“I was feeling good, a little tired,” Falter said. “But it’s the life coming out of the bullpen now. I’m not really used to it. I’m just trying to get a little feel for it. But I’m not going to question Joe Girardi’s decision. He saw something in the game, and I’m completely OK with that.”
The Phillies blew a franchise-record 25 saves in 2004. The Rockies blew an MLB-record 34 saves that same season.
This bullpen could shatter both marks.
It blew two saves Wednesday in a 13-12 loss to the Nationals at Citizens Bank Park. It blew a save in Game 1 of Friday’s doubleheader against the Mets at Citi Field, spoiling Aaron Nola’s record-tying 10 consecutive strikeouts. It blew a save in Game 2, but the Phillies came back to win. It blew two saves Saturday, wasting an opportunity to beat NL Cy Young frontrunner Jacob deGrom. It picked up a save in Sunday’s victory over the Mets, but it allowed two runs in two innings.
Then Monday happened, as the Phillies became the first team to blow seven saves in a six-game span since Houston in September 1995, according to the Elias Sports Bureau. It got so bad on Monday that the team needed infielder Nick Maton to record the final out of the eighth. Umpires checked his cap and glove for foreign substances.
He was clean.
“It’s just a matter of staying positive,” said Howard, who allowed two runs on four hits and one walk in 2 1/3 innings. “All these guys work their [butts] off, whether it be mechanical or mental stuff. It’s not a question of working.”
The Phillies open a three-game series Tuesday night against the Marlins at Citizens Bank Park. Miami causes Philadelphia fits, but it is difficult to imagine these games going worse than the past six.
“I’ve said all along that this team is pretty good about bouncing back the next day,” Girardi said. “But it’s extremely frustrating. I mean, I’m not going to sugarcoat it. It’s really frustrating.”