Connor Brogdon felt fine Tuesday night as he warmed up in the bullpen, ready to protect a two-run lead in the eighth inning. He had not allowed a run since last August as he returned to the majors last summer with the makings of a dominant reliever. The Phillies were without their two setup men Tuesday night, but Brogdon seemed like a fine option.
And then the reliever reached the mound and an eventual 10-7 loss to San Francisco started to unravel. His change-up was wild. His fastball was flat. They teed Brogdon up for a pair of three-run homers. His pitches no longer felt like they did minutes earlier in the bullpen.
“I’m not making any excuses, but growing up in Fresno and watching the Giants, I think there was a lot of adrenaline pumping seeing some of the guys that I kind of watched growing up on TV and stuff,” Brogdon said. “I found myself getting rushed and I think that’s why the change-up was floating up and away to a lot of left-handed hitters there. I have to find a better way to calm myself down and execute.”
The Phillies planned this offseason for innings like Tuesday’s to belong to Archie Bradley and Jose Alvarado. But Bradley is out for at least two more weeks with a rib cage injury and Alvarado was placed Monday on the injured list due to COVID-19 protocols.
So Joe Girardi had to shuffle his bullpen. Brogdon had not allowed a run in his last 15⅓ innings and started this season with six straight scoreless appearances. But none of those appearances came against the team he grew up rooting for in Northern California.
“Connor has been as good as any reliever we’ve had, if you look at this year, if you look at the end of last year,” Girardi said. “I actually liked the matchups. He’s been really tough on left-handed hitters if you look at his history. Just tonight, it didn’t seem like he had great command of his change-up and he made some mistakes. You know, I just felt like he was going to get them out. I did. I really did.”
The Phillies have lost seven of their last 10 games and can be swept on Wednesday by Gabe Kapler in his return to Philadelphia. Tuesday’s loss — a crushing bullpen collapse — felt like the kind that seemed commonplace last summer when the Phillies played a 60-game season with baseball’s worst bullpen in 90 years. They spent the offseason bolstering their bullpen in hopes of avoiding nights like Tuesday. But they didn’t plan for two of their key additions to be missing in the third week of the season.
Brogdon allowed a one-out double to Evan Longoria and then walked Brandon Belt, who debuted with the Giants when Brogdon was 16 years old. His change-up was useless and Alex Dickerson timed up his fastball for a 422-foot home-run to right. Buster Posey and Brandon Crawford — both of whom joined the Giants when Brogdon was in high school — followed with back-to-back singles. The two-run lead had already been blown, but Wilmer Flores blew the game open by crushing another fastball for a three-run homer.
“Without the change-up, it opens up the door for the hitter to kind of sit on a fastball when he knows I don’t have a good feel for it,” Brogdon said. “I have to be a lot better than that and have my change-up to complement the fastball.”
Brogdon’s rough inning spoiled a night when the Phillies should have won despite starting the game without Rhys Hoskins, Andrew McCutchen, and Didi Gregorius in their lineup. Gregorius is day-to-day with an elbow injury and the slumping Hoskins and McCutchen rested. They lost Jean Segura — one of their most consistent hitters this season — to a quadriceps injury, which forced Hoskins into the the game. And were so thin on infielders that Andrew Knapp played second base in the ninth inning. But they still came within six outs of a win.
“Tonight’s on me,” said Zack Wheeler, who allowed three home runs and didn’t shut the door after being spotted a four-run lead. “We had them down early and it’s my job to go out there and limit the damage. That’s what’s frustrating. Being able to cruise and letting them back in it and they carried that momentum that they got off me for the rest of the game, so that’s on me tonight.”
Brogdon was roughed up last August in his first week with the Phillies. They dropped him back to the minors with a bitter taste of the majors and low morale. He rebuilt his confidence in Allentown and emerged as a bright spot for a brutal bullpen. But he looked Tuesday night like the pitcher who struggled last summer. The Phillies don’t know when they’ll have their two setup men back, so one bad night won’t cost Brogdon much standing in the bullpen hierarchy. The Phillies need him. And after Wednesday, they don’t play the Giants again until the middle of June.
“I think the only thing I can do is flush it. I’ve been in this situation before,” Brogdon said. “This is pretty reminiscent of my debut. You just have to flush it, come back tomorrow, and be better.”