The Phillies still have a lot to overcome in the final five weeks of the season, but imagine how much daunting their playoff push would feel if it wasn’t for Kyle Gibson.
Hours after manager Joe Girardi said Zach Eflin’s chances to return this season are slimmer than before, Gibson turned in six scoreless innings Saturday night in a 7-0 win over the Arizona Diamondbacks that pushed the Phillies back over .500. Losing Eflin is a blow, but it’s an easier punch to absorb thanks to the trade-deadline addition of Gibson.
The right-hander struck out three, walked none and allowed just three hits. He recorded half of his outs on the ground and has a 1.93 ERA in five starts since joining the Phillies. Gibson has done more than just hold his own. He’s steadied a rotation that could have become razor thin after Eflin’s knee injury. His addition looks better with each start.
“Oh, definitely,” Girardi said. “It’s an addition for this year, obviously, which is really important and for next year. He just has such a feel for pitching and using both sides of the plate with all of his pitches. He doesn’t beat himself. He goes about his business the right way and he’s always prepared. I think it’s a really good addition.”
The Phillies entered Saturday 5 ½ games behind Atlanta and FanGraphs only gave them a 12.6% chance to make the playoffs. But there’s still 33 games remaining. Performances like Gibson’s can give hope to even the unlikeliest of playoff pushes.
“We have a really veteran team where mindset-wise is in a really good spot,” Gibson said. “I think the comeback, walk-off win on Friday was great for us. We showed a lot of fight. We showed a lot of grit. I think that’s how we’re going to have to be. Just because it’s the Diamondbacks, the Marlins, the Nationals, or whoever it is, teams want to be spoilers. Teams want to disappoint the teams who are trying to make the playoffs. Every night we take the field, it’s going to be a dogfight. It doesn’t matter who it is. With a veteran team, I like our chances to win those dogfights.”
Gibson retired 12 of the first 13 batters he faced before his pitch count was spiked by throwing 23 pitches in the fourth inning. Nick Ahmed battled Gibson for nine pitches but Gibson won with a groundout. An inning later, Josh Rojas saw 11 pitches before Gibson ended it with a groundout.
“There have been some times earlier in my career where those at-bats ended with walks and I don’t think there’s anything worse than those longer at-bats ending in a walk,” Gibson said. “Those long at-bats take up pitches but it’s a good feeling because it kind of showed me where my pitch execution is and what level it is that day. Sometimes, those end up taking an inning off your outing like they did tonight but in big games that we need to win, I’m not too disappointed about them.”
Gibson faced some long at-bats but never seemed to be in real trouble. Gibson, like he has been for the last month, was a steady presence.
“We had some uncertainty in the rotation and then we put Ranger Suarez in there and it gave us a little more. Then we acquired Kyle and it gave us a lot more,” Girardi said. “You have to be able to run out a starter who is going to give you a chance to win every night. I feel like we’re doing that right now.”
More than just Harper and Realmuto
Girardi said after Friday night’s win that the Phillies will need more than just Bryce Harper and J.T. Realmuto to carry the offense after Rhys Hoskins was lost for the season. He didn’t have to wait long to see those other contributions.
“You need your whole lineup to hit, at times,” Girardi said. “Everyone is not going to hit at the same time but they all need to find a way to contribute. When you have more than one or two guys and you have five or six like we did tonight, you put up big numbers.”
Jean Segura had three hits and hit back-to-back homers in the third with Odúbel Herrera, who had two hits. Didi Gregorius doubled three times and drove in a pair of runs. Segura is 7 for 12 in his last three games, a sign that he might be heating up. Gregorius has been hitting the ball hard lately but wasn’t finding much luck. The Phillies hope Saturday was the start of his fortune shifting.
Marchan behind the dish
Rafael Marchan will likely see a good amount of playing time in September and his Saturday night was a good first impression after returning from triple A. The 22-year-old is a strong defender and seemed to call a good game for Gibson.
“I think he did a great job,” Gibson said. “I think it’s a tough assignment to just get thrown into a game and try to figure out a starting pitcher who you haven’t caught in spring training, you haven’t caught a bullpen, nothing. We hadn’t even played catch before I threw him the first fastball warming up. For him to kind of learn how my sinker moves, how my changeup moves, how all these pitches play together, he’s only going to get better at it.”
He’s back with the Phillies while Andrew Knapp is on the COVID-19 injured list and should remain with the Phillies in September while J.T. Realmuto spends time at first base. The Phillies will likely select either him or Knapp as Realmuto’s backup in 2022.
“Gibby is fantastic and he took care of the kid but Gibby is the kind of guy who throws every pitch so finding out exactly what he wants to do is hard,” Girardi said. “A lot of times, you’ll have the right pitch but the wrong location. They worked well together. I give Marchy a lot of credit. That’s probably the most creative starter we have in a sense. He got thrown into the fire right away.”
Harper smashes helmet
It wasn’t hard to see why Bryce Harper was so frustrated after grounding out to end the fifth inning. Harper just missed a hanging curveball and grounded it to second base instead of driving the pitch out of the park. In the first, Harper connected on a changeup but his bat snapped so he had to settle for a 300-foot sacrifice fly. The Phillies hit Diamondbacks starter Humberto Mejia for six innings and Harper missed his chances.
So it was understandable when he ripped his batting helmet off and smashed it against the ground after running through the first-base bag. Harper got his redemption in the eighth as he drove a ball down the left-field line that he turned into a double by hustling as it bounced off the front-row rail.
Bullpen locks it down
Gibson’s 99 pitches caused him to leave after six innings, forcing the bullpen to finish off the final nine outs. Jose Alvarado handled the seventh, Hector Neris pitched the eighth, and Sam Coonrod tackled the ninth. Alvarado struck out two of the three batters he faced while Neris struck out the side. Girardi did not use Archie Bradley, who he said before the game is still dealing with a fatigued shoulder.