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Why reliever Connor Brogdon’s imminent return will be welcomed by the Phillies bullpen

Brogdon’s return from a groin injury would coincide with a stretch in which eight of the Phillies’ last 11 games entering Friday night were decided by two runs or less.

Phillies reliever Connor Brogdon, sidelined since Sept. 12 because of a groin injury, could return this weekend.
Phillies reliever Connor Brogdon, sidelined since Sept. 12 because of a groin injury, could return this weekend.Read moreYONG KIM / Staff Photographer

Eight games from the end of the regular season, the Phillies’ relievers could use some relief.

Connor Brogdon may be ready to provide it.

Brogdon hasn’t pitched since Sept. 12 because of a strained right groin. But he felt better after throwing live batting practice Thursday and could be activated over the weekend, perhaps even for Saturday’s game against the Pittsburgh Pirates at Citizens Bank Park.

“He had a decent day, so we’ve got to see what’s next,” manager Joe Girardi said.

Brogdon’s return would coincide with a stretch in which the Phillies have taxed their top relievers. Eight of the Phillies’ last 11 games entering Friday night were decided by two runs or fewer. As a result, lefty José Alvarado had appeared in three consecutive games and five of the last seven; Sam Coonrod and Archie Bradley each appeared in four of the last seven games; closer Ian Kennedy made 30- and 32-pitch appearances on back-to-back days this week.

» READ MORE: How the deadline deal that proved to be lifeline for Phillies’ playoff hopes went down

Girardi is careful throughout the season to monitor the usage of relievers. Most notably, he won’t use a reliever three days in a row, at least not until the last two months of the season.

Relievers, especially veterans such as Bradley and Héctor Neris, expect to pitch almost every day down the stretch with their team in a playoff race. And while Girardi tends to relax his bullpen-management rules at crunch time, he also is wary of overdoing it.

“You do have to be smart about it,” Girardi said. “If a guy’s sore, you just can’t say, ‘We’re going to use you as sacrificial lamb.’”

Brogdon would give Girardi another high-leverage option late in games. He has allowed 45 hits in 55 innings this season and posted a 3.60 ERA.

Wheels in motion?

The plan, at least for now, calls for the Phillies to go with a bullpen start in the next-to-last game of the season, Oct. 2 in Miami, and Zack Wheeler the following day. But what if the Phillies need to win Game 161 to stay alive for the season finale?

Wheeler, the Phillies’ ace and Cy Young Award candidate, has never started on three days’ rest in his career. He also leads the majors with 206⅓ innings pitched, 5.6% more than his previous career-high. The Phillies have intentionally kept him to less than 100 pitches and fewer than seven innings in four of his last five starts to save a few bullets.

» READ MORE: Zack Wheeler made it this far, and it’s up to the Phillies to make his last two starts matter

But if the penultimate game of the season is a potential elimination game, would the Phillies consider bringing Wheeler back on short rest?

“I guess it’s something we can talk about,” Girardi said. “It’s not something we’ve talked about as of right now, just because we’re trying to manage him now.”

Wheeler, Aaron Nola, and Kyle Gibson are scheduled to start the three games in Atlanta next week. They would be followed by lefty Ranger Suárez, the bullpen game, and Wheeler in Miami.

The Phillies could take advantage of a day off Monday to push Suárez into the Atlanta series. But Girardi said the Phillies will probably keep the status quo because the Braves lineup tilts slightly more right-handed.

Extra bases

The Phillies’ last five first-round draft picks -- Cornelius Randolph (2015), Mickey Moniak (2016), Adam Haseley (2017), Alec Bohm (2018), and Bryson Stott (2019) -- are with triple-A Lehigh Valley for its series this week in Buffalo and next week at home against Worcester. ... Suárez (6-5, 1.60 ERA) will start Saturday against Pirates right-hander Wil Crowe (4-7, 5.77).