One year later, Thomson tasked with another Phils turnaround

June 3rd, 2023

This story was excerpted from Todd Zolecki’s Phillies Beat newsletter. To read the full newsletter, click here. And subscribe to get it regularly in your inbox.

Everything changed for Rob Thomson a year ago today, when Dave Dombrowski fired Joe Girardi and named him interim manager. 

A year later, however, Thomson is in the exact same place. 

He entered the weekend in Washington trying to turn around a talented but listless team. But unlike last year when fans directed their frustrations toward Girardi, they are directing their frustrations toward him. The Phillies are 25-32 following Friday’s 8-7 loss to the Nationals. They are tied with the Nationals for last place in the National League East. They are only a game ahead of the Rockies for the worst record in the league. Yet, despite woefully underachieving to this point, they are only 4 1/2 games out of an NL Wild Card berth. 

said Thursday in New York that the team’s poor play is on the players.  echoed that sentiment, voicing support for Thomson. 

“Everybody can attest to what happened last year,” Harper said on Wednesday. “You know I hate looking back. It’s a totally different team. But at that moment last year, it was a great decision [changing managers]. It calmed down our team. A lot of players knew him, they knew his voice and they knew how calming he could be and how much he understood the game. 

“Going into this year, it’s his first year being our guy. He’s been great for us, just being able to go out there and play our game. We’re not where we want to be right now. Everybody knows that. But there’s no panic in his voice. That’s a huge thing. Because if the manager is panicking then the whole team is going to be walking on eggshells. We’re not where we want to be. Should we be better? Yes. Have we played our best baseball? No. But we do have 100 games to get this together.”

The offense has been perhaps the team’s biggest disappointment, so many have wanted Thomson to make wholesale changes to the lineup. There is no miracle cure, but he made a few notable changes Friday. He moved Schwarber into the leadoff spot, shifted to second and dropped  to fifth.

Maybe it works. Maybe it doesn’t. Harper explained why players like a manager who doesn’t make panicky changes to the lineup every day, based on one player’s slump or one bad game.

“Each guy knowing where they’re going to hit every day is huge,” Harper said. “Just knowing you’re going to play right field or shortstop or catch that day, understanding you’re going to hit sixth or second or third, you know where you’re going to be. He’s showing the faith in us, so we have to reward the faith he has in us. I understand people talking about the lineup. I get it completely. But at the same time, it’s nice to have a manager that really understands the game and understands what he’s doing.”

Thomson’s public persona is calm, not fiery, but he said this week that he has spoken to the team at least a couple times this season.

“He’ll get on us,” Harper said. “He has that voice. The thing about the sternness is, he doesn’t need to get up because when he does have that sternness, we’re like, ‘Oh, he means business because he never gets that way.’ So when he does, we understand that he isn’t happy. He’s a very easygoing, even-keel, not-too-high, not-too-low manager. So when he does get upset or when he does talk about something, we know he means it.”

Charlie Manuel got criticized at times for being too much of a players’ manager, but he could jump a player behind closed doors with the best of them. And some of his rants in team meetings were all-timers. But Manuel said the more a manager calls team meetings or loses his mind in the dugout, the less impactful those moments become.

Harper agrees.

“We have way too many guys in this clubhouse that have been in the game for a while,” he said. “When we need to go, we need to go. And we’re trying to go every day. But when [Thomson] does say something, it means something. If something needs to be said, he’ll say it. But that’s the thing about having the guys in the clubhouse that we have, we can help him out as well.”