PHILADELPHIA -- The Phillies needed to do something to save their latest season of unfulfilled expectations, so on Friday they dismissed Joe Girardi.
Maybe it propels them to the postseason for the first time since 2011.
Or maybe the Phillies’ issues run much deeper than manager.
The Phils will find out. But president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski could not continue to watch his team lose like this. He spoke with Phillies managing partner John Middleton on Tuesday about possibly changing managers. He chatted with members of his baseball operations department, of course. He said he went for a jog early Friday morning and decided to make the change. He called Girardi and told him to come to the ballpark for a meeting.
He told him there that he was out.
Dombrowski replaced Girardi with Rob Thomson, who was Girardi’s long-time bench coach with the Yankees and Phillies.
“I don’t put it all on Joe,” Dombrowski said. “We’ve been a club that has struggled. I’m disappointed. I put the club together. I think we’re better than we’ve played. But to me, I think the most important part is we’re going to turn this around. I think we still have the capability to do it. I think we need a different voice in the clubhouse with the players, with the staff members. … I think that [Thomson] is a different voice and viewed in a different way with the players. I think he will have a different relationship with them and with the coaching staff than Joe did, and so I think that difference is what I’m looking for at this point. And I think it will work.”
Thomson met with players immediately following a press conference at Citizens Bank Park on Friday afternoon. He told them that he has their backs. He told them that he believes they can win.
“I want to know what these guys feel physically, mentally, emotionally so that we can properly prepare them, so that we can compete at the highest level and perform,” Thomson, 58, said. “The only way you get that feel is by communicating, talking and spending time in the clubhouse. … Now I can go out in the clubhouse and really communicate with the players, get to know them, get the feel, know what they like, know what they don’t like, know when they’re hurt, know when they’re not hurt, so that they know that I’ve got their back and that I support them. They can go out there and put their game on autopilot and just relax and play.”
Since 1969, 174 teams have had multiple managers for more than 20 games a season. Only 14 (8 percent) made the postseason.
It has not happened since the 2009 Rockies.
But the Phillies rolled the dice anyway. There is no question they should be better than their 22-29 record under Girardi. They certainly spent enough money to be better. Middleton and ownership exceeded the luxury tax for the first time in club history, building a franchise-record payroll approaching $240 million.
They don’t have the record to show for it.
“I think you understand it better as you go through it more times, and we underperformed and that falls on me, so this is what happens,” Girardi said on MLB Network Radio on SiriusXM.
Girardi and Thomson are friends. They have been together a long time.
It begged the question: is there a significant difference between the two? Or is this just a change for change’s sake?
“I’m a little bit different than Joe,” Thomson said. “I’m not going to go into the differences, but I like to think that I’m prepared and I’m a good communicator with these guys.”
So would Thomson have pitched Corey Knebel for a third consecutive day on May 24 in Atlanta? Bryce Harper homered in the ninth to give the Phillies a one-run lead. Girardi pitched Nick Nelson because Knebel, who is the closer, had pitched the previous two days. Girardi rarely used a relief pitcher for three consecutive days, citing health and effectiveness.
The Phillies lost the game.
The next afternoon Knebel, Kyle Schwarber and Kyle Gibson met with Girardi in his office.
“We’re now into June, and I’m not going to say we’d do it every time, but we’ll take it case by case,” Thomson said about his bullpen usage. “We used [Jeurys] Familia the other night three days in a row. So we’re going to do it case by case. If there are low pitch counts the first two nights and the guy looks you in the eye and says, ‘I’m good to go,’ and you trust him, then it’s a possibility.”
The Phillies need to win those games if they expect to crawl back into postseason contention. They lost too many games like that under Girardi.
It wasn’t supposed to happen like this, of course. Expectations were high when Girardi joined the organization following Gabe Kapler’s dismissal in 2019. But Girardi’s Phillies career ended with a 132-141 (.484) record. He managed five fewer games than Ryne Sandberg (2013-15) and only 19 more than Lee Elia (1987-88).
Those tenures were not good times for the franchise either.
Dombrowski is betting this will change things.
“Oh, I think we can make the playoffs,” Dombrowski said.