It was fitting that the Phillies played their series finale against the Toronto Blue Jays in a spring-training ballpark because the lineup manager Joe Girardi sent out Sunday afternoon resembled something typically reserved for a Grapefruit League road game.
A loss to the young and powerful Jays at TD Ballpark in Dunedin, Fla., was predictable, but the Phillies’ 10-8 setback was filled with countless subplots, including a heated dugout discussion between Girardi and second baseman Jean Segura, an unexpected and premature return from a shoulder injury by Bryce Harper and a three-hit, two-home run, four-RBI performance by rookie shortstop Nick Maton.
The game ended on an eight-pitch strikeout by Harper after the Phillies had closed to within two runs by scoring twice in the top of the ninth.
The first bit of drama occurred when the Blue Jays’ television feed captured a contentious dugout exchange between Girardi and Segura after the Phillies second baseman allowed a softly hit liner to fall in front of him for an error during the bottom of the first inning. It was the first of two errors by Segura, who was restrained by third-base coach Dusty Wathan after he started yelling back at Girardi.
“It was a bench conversation meant for the bench,” Girardi said after the Phillies completed their 4-5 road trip.
When asked if he thought the issue was resolved, Girardi said, “that’s my job.”
Pressed further, the manager grew agitated.
“You can ask all you want,” he said. “You got everything you’re going to get about it. I’m done. I know you’re doing your job, but that’s it.”
Girardi turned into football agent Drew Rosenhaus on Terrell Owens’ Moorestown driveway, circa 2005, when asked if his exchange with Segura was a conversation or a confrontation.
“Next question,” the manager said.
But what about the optics of the whole thing?
“Next question,” Girardi repeated. “I’m not going to talk about it. Next question. You got a baseball question? Ask me a baseball question.”
There were plenty of baseball questions to be asked.
Harper (sore right shoulder), catcher J.T. Realmuto (sore left wrist), and shortstop Didi Gregorius (sore right elbow) all watched the start of the game from the dugout Sunday and a fourth player (backup catcher Andrew Knapp) was scratched just before game time with tightness in his rib cage. He was replaced in the lineup by rookie Rafael Marchan.
Harper, after another discussion caught on camera with Girardi, actually talked his way onto the field in the bottom of the sixth inning. He replaced Scott Kingery in right field. The struggling Kingery left after striking out for the third time in as many at-bats. Girardi said he was dizzy after hitting the wall trying to catch a fly ball.
Lost somewhat in the wild day’s events was a brilliant performance by rookie shortstop Nick Maton.
After starter Chase Anderson registered just four outs and the Phillies fell behind 7-0 in the second inning, Maton led a rally by hitting the first home run of his career off Toronto lefty Robbie Ray to open the fifth inning. Andrew McCutchen followed with his sixth home run and an Alec Bohm RBI single later in the inning made it 8-3.
The Phillies suddenly had some life.
Maton hit a second home run with two outs in the sixth and before the day was over he’d also contribute a two-run single that pulled the Phillies within three runs at 9-6 in the eighth.
“Big day for Nick,” Girardi said. “You know your first home run is always special as a hitter. He backed it up with another one and another two RBIs after that.”
Odúbel Herrera nearly tied the game with a deep fly ball that hit near the top of the wall in the top the ninth, but instead it left Girardi in the uncomfortable position of sending Harper and his ailing right shoulder to the plate as the go-ahead run.
“I was concerned,” Girardi said. “We talked about some different things and I talked to Bryce and he said he wanted to try it. He was OK, so we let him do it. You know I trust the player in that sense and his body. I thought he had some good swings. He had a good at-bat that last at-bat. We just came up a bit short.”
In addition to all the injuries, the Phillies also have a decision to make about their fifth starter. Anderson has failed to pitch beyond the fourth inning in five of his eight starts and his worst outing of the season left his earned run average at 6.96. It also left open the possibility that his next turn in the rotation could be taken by rookie Spencer Howard, who had another solid outing for triple-A Lehigh Valley Sunday.
“I’ll take the responsibility for this game here,” Anderson said. “The guys fought so much to come back and did a good job fighting until the end. So this game today is on me. I have to do better than this and I know I can and I have in recent starts, so I have to figure it out and keep moving on.”