This is it.
This is the Phillies’ bullpen.
Philadelphia blew a three-run lead in the eighth inning and ultimately the game in Thursday night’s 7-6 walk-off loss to Miami at Marlins Park.
Phillies manager Joe Girardi afterward answered familiar questions about a season-long problem that could cost the team its first trip to the postseason since 2011. Girardi then returned to announce that the Phillies shuffled their rotation for their five-day, seven-game series because Zack Wheeler snagged the nail on his right middle finger while putting on his pants Wednesday. Wheeler had been scheduled to pitch Saturday, but he will not pitch until Monday at the earliest.
“Can’t make this up,” Girardi said.
Even if nothing happened to Wheeler, Thursday's story isn't difficult to believe. It keeps happening.
There had been questions about the bullpen since the offseason. It posted an 8.07 ERA through 21 games, which was the highest mark in the Majors. No Phillies bullpen had a higher ERA through 21 games since 1938 (10.26 ERA). The front office executed trades on Aug. 21 to acquire Brandon Workman, Heath Hembree and David Hale. It made another deal on Aug. 31 for David Phelps.
But the numbers haven’t changed.
The bullpen has a 6.18 ERA since Aug. 21. It has an 8.42 ERA since Aug. 31. It has a 13.83 ERA in the past five games.
“These are the guys that got to get it done,” Girardi said. “These are the guys that we have. And they’ve got to find a way to get it done.”
Right-hander Tommy Hunter, who started the eighth, had a 2.19 ERA in his last 12 appearances, but he loaded the bases with two outs. Girardi summoned Workman. Starling Marte smacked his second pitch off the right-field wall to clear the bases with a game-tying double.
Workman allowed a leadoff single in the ninth and ultimately a two-out, walk-off single to Jorge Alfaro.
“It’s tough to swallow that one,” said Phillies catcher J.T. Realmuto, who hit a solo homer against his former club.
At this point, should fans have any reason to believe the bullpen can improve? The loss moved the Marlins within a half-game of the Phillies for second place in the National League East. Second-place teams automatically qualify for this year’s eight-team postseason.
“We have to give them a reason to believe,” Realmuto said. “So far, we just haven’t gotten the job done. That’s plain and simple. We’ve got to make some adjustments back there. Maybe attack guys a little bit differently. Maybe I can call pitches a little differently. We’ve got to do something different, but the talent is there. I would hang our hat on that for now and let us earn their trust back.”
Added Arrieta: “They can get it done. They definitely can. They’ve had a tough go of it lately. They’ve had so many interchangeable pieces that have made it difficult for guys to really fall into certain roles and get comfortable. That’s just the way the season goes sometimes. It hasn’t been a storybook season, but we’re still in the position we are with a lot of positive things still to come. It’s a tough way to start the series, but we have six more here. A lot of innings to play against these guys. It’s a tough way to lose the first one, but we can’t let that discourage us too much.”
The Phillies play a seven-inning doubleheader Friday, with right-hander Aaron Nola starting Game 1. They planned to have right-hander Spencer Howard start Game 2, but the bullpen will pitch that game instead because Howard moved to Saturday, when Wheeler was scheduled to pitch. It is not ideal. Wheeler has been one of the team’s two best pitchers. He gives them length, which they need.
“We are hoping that he will be ready [Monday],” Girardi said.
Howard has pitched five innings only once in his first five starts.
“It’s going to be tough for us,” Realmuto said. “Guys are going to have to pitch a lot of innings. We’re going to have to pitch well. We’ve got the guys to do it. Our bullpen depth is pretty good. When the guys are right, we have the guys to do it. It’s a seven-game series. Starting off 0-1 isn’t ideal, but there’s a lot of games left.”