'Everything' feels wrong for Brogdon amid early struggles

April 2nd, 2024

PHILADELPHIA -- It feels like forever since mowed down the Houston Astros in Game 5 of the 2022 World Series. It’s been 17 months nearly to the day.

He struck out five batters in two scoreless innings that November night at Citizens Bank Park -- Yordan Alvarez, Kyle Tucker and Yuli Gurriel swinging in the fourth inning and David Hensley and Martín Maldonado in the fifth. It capped a dominant postseason in which he became one of Rob Thomson’s most trusted and effective relievers.

Brogdon is searching for that feeling again, but he might be running out of time.

“I’m just kind of scrambled out there right now,” Brogdon said following a 6-3 loss to the Reds in 10 innings on Monday night at Citizens Bank Park.

Brogdon, 29, walked three and allowed a grand slam to Spencer Steer in the 10th. He threw seven consecutive balls before he threw a 2-0 strike to Steer. Brogdon’s next pitch was a 91.6 mph fastball over the plate.

Steer crushed it. It was the slowest fastball Brogdon had allowed for a hit in his MLB career.

“I don’t even know how many balls I had thrown in a row before I showed him a strike,” Brogdon said. “At that point, I was like, man, just throw the ball in the zone.”

It was Brogdon’s third appearance of the season. In his first two outings, he allowed two hits, three runs, three walks and one home run in 1 1/3 innings.

But Brogdon found himself in a big spot Monday for a few reasons. First, the Phillies used Jeff Hoffman, Matt Strahm, Yunior Marte and José Alvarado to pitch the sixth through ninth innings. Phillies left-hander Cristopher Sánchez pitched splendidly in five-plus innings, retiring 11 consecutive batters and striking out eight. But after Sánchez walked Jonathan India and allowed a double to Steer to start the sixth, Thomson pulled him at 85 pitches.

“It was hard for me because I wanted to throw the whole inning,” Sánchez said.

Second, Gregory Soto and Seranthony Domínguez were unavailable Monday after pitching Saturday and Sunday. Soto threw only one pitch Sunday, but Thomson will not use a reliever three consecutive days this early in the season.

“I’m not going to take a chance,” Thomson said.

Thomson is playing the long game with his relievers, believing extra care early will keep them healthy and effective later. But it can create situations like Monday’s 10th inning. Thomson chose Brogdon over Nick Nelson, who had a 6.23 spring ERA. Nelson joined the team from Triple-A this weekend after Luis Ortiz went on the IL with a sprained left ankle.

“We’ve had how many guys go three out of four [days] and they haven’t done that,” Thomson said. “If it’s later in the year, you don’t really think too much about it.”

Brogdon entered Spring Training with a solid chance to make the Opening Day roster in part because he is out of options, so the Phillies would’ve risked losing him if he didn’t make the team. But as camp neared the end, Brogdon’s spot became tenuous with impressive showings from Marte and Ortiz, who were competing for the final two bullpen jobs.

But when Taijuan Walker and Orion Kerkering opened the season on the IL, it created three spots. Marte and Ortiz got two as expected. Brogdon made it, too.

“I just feel like it’s been a constant journey trying to find the right stuff mechanically,” Brogdon said.

His four-seam fastball averaged 95.1 mph in 2022. It averaged 94.7 mph in 2023, although he spent most of the year in Triple-A following early-season struggles. It averaged 92.7 mph entering Monday.

“I mean, everything,” Brogdon said when asked what feels wrong. “I’m out there thinking about every single step in my delivery at times. I mean, not every pitch. But there are pitches I’m thinking of every step I go through in my entire delivery.”

It is unclear how many more opportunities Brogdon will get, which underscores how volatile relievers can be from one season to the next. Brogdon was a key cog in the team’s 2022 success. Now, he’s just trying to survive on the mound.

Kerkering is expected to rejoin the team on Tuesday in St. Louis.

“Every day I feel like I’m right there,” Brogdon said. “I felt like I was right there today. I think I’ve simplified it. I’ve got it down and then tonight happens.”