Before he decided to fire manager Joe Girardi, Phillies president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski talked with members of the front office. He ran it by owner John Middleton. But he didn’t seek input from any players.
What if he had?
“It always comes down to the players because we’re the ones that have to play,” right fielder Nick Castellanos said Friday after Girardi was let go. “If the players were playing better, we’d have more wins and Joe would still have a job.”
Several prominent team leaders, including Bryce Harper, echoed Castellanos’ sentiment. The Phillies were 22-29 and 12 games out of first place entering this weekend’s series with the Los Angeles Angels, which isn’t nearly good enough for a team with a $238 million payroll for luxury-tax purposes and a decade-long playoff drought.
Girardi paid for the disappointing start with his job. And although Dombrowski must know that replacing Girardi with bench coach Rob Thomson on an interim basis isn’t going to turn the Phillies into a better defensive team or improve the bullpen, he’s counting on it being a shock to the system for underachieving players.
“It better be,” Castellanos said. “Because everybody in the clubhouse knows that [stuff] is not going well, so changes were made. It’s a sad day when somebody loses their job because we’re not performing, and I take that hard.”
Said first baseman Rhys Hoskins: “Hopefully we get a little bump with this.”
But midseason managerial changes are rarely effective. Not since the Colorado Rockies in 2009 has a team rallied to make the playoffs after firing its manager.
Harper is no stranger to managerial upheaval. In seven seasons with the Washington Nationals, he played for four managers: Davey Johnson, Matt Williams, Dusty Baker, and Dave Martinez. Thomson will be his third manager in four years with the Phillies, following Gabe Kapler and Girardi.
So Harper wasn’t particularly surprised the Phillies made a change. He said he spoke by phone with Girardi after the news broke.
“It definitely falls partly on the players,” Harper said. “In all sports, the coach gets the dagger, [and] it’s usually partly on the players and partly on the staff as well. It all comes down to winning, and we just haven’t done that. There’s not just blame on Joe. We haven’t played to the best of our ability.”
Thomson, 58, is a longtime coach on Girardi’s staffs here and with the New York Yankees. But he also predates Girardi in the Phillies organization, having interviewed for the managerial job after the 2017 season and worked as Kapler’s bench coach in 2018-19.
It’s unclear how similar Thomson’s philosophy will be to Girardi’s because he has not managed previously in the majors. But his work ethic is legendary. As bench coach, he often would arrive at the ballpark by 2:30 a.m. to plan the day’s schedule.
“He’s been in this organization for five years now,” Harper said. “He knows the ins and outs. He brings that new voice. Maybe he’s more open now since he is the manager and not the bench coach.”
Critics piled on Girardi for his bullpen usage, specifically his refusal to call on a reliever more than two days in a row early in the season.
Thomson declined to say if he would have allowed closer Corey Knebel to pitch on a third consecutive day May 24 in Atlanta, a game the Phillies lost in gut-wrenching fashion after Girardi stayed with Nick Nelson in the ninth inning. But it does appear Thomson may be more flexible.
“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. “We’re going to do it case by case.”
Don’t count on Leyland
Because of Dombrowski’s long association with longtime manager Jim Leyland with the Detroit Tigers and Florida Marlins, there was natural speculation that they may reunite.
Don’t hold your breath.
“One of my best friends. We talk all the time,” Dombrowski said. “I do know that Jim is not interested in getting back on the field. I know that. When I say back on the field, I mean manager-type. He just does not want to do that.”
Leyland, 77, ranks 18th on the all-time list with 1,769 victories in 22 seasons as a manager. But he hasn’t managed since 2013 with the Tigers.
Second baseman Jean Segura underwent surgery on his fractured right index finger. He’s expected to miss 10 to 12 weeks. ... Zack Wheeler was named NL Pitcher of the Month after posting a 1.65 ERA, 40 strikeouts, and only five walks in 32⅔ innings over five starts in May. ... Angels superstar Mike Trout, who grew up nearby in Millville, N.J., and is an unabashed Eagles fan, received a loud ovation before his first at-bat at Citizens Bank Park since 2014. ... Coaching assistant Bobby Meacham, also let go Friday, was close with Girardi. They worked together previously with the Yankees in 2008 and Miami Marlins in 2006. ... Wheeler (3-3, 3.16 ERA) will start Saturday night against Angels right-hander Michael Lorenzen (5-2, 3.19).