Joe Girardi had had a bad three weeks. His Phillies were undermanned, overextended, and underperforming. They’d won two of four games in Miami, but they should have won three, and he had to spend an extra day before continuing his late spring business trip in Tampa, so he was in a mood, just waiting for a chance to pounce. Finally, with the last question of the postgame teleconference, he pounced.
Asked why second baseman Jean Segura did not remain in the game after pinch-hitting Thursday, Girardi interpreted the question as an injury inquiry (it could have been a strategy question, or a punishment question, but whatever). For context: Girardi last weekend had lied about the degree of Bryce Harper’s wrist injury, saying Harper’s exclusion was not injury-related. So, according to team sources, Girardi this week got permission from team president Dave Dombrowski to not issue any more injury information.
“Just so you guys know, um, we’re gonna approach this different. I’ve talked to people in our organization ... um ... just ‘manager’s decision.’ And I’m not gonna share who’s available, or who’s not available, because I think it’s somewhat unfair to us. Just like if you were going to do something, you wouldn’t necessarily share it with a rival reporter.”
Girardi then gave a nod of his head, pursed his lips, and exited stage right. He was clearly uncomfortable, and he was clearly upset. Girardi delivered Thursday’s petulant performance without relish. He understands the press is a conduit to the public, and baseball, struggling for relevancy, needs both the press and the public to survive.
He admitted Tuesday that he didn’t enjoy his duplicity regarding Harper: “I’m sorry that I had to do that,” Girardi said. That was the truth.
But, having observed Girardi for the last 25 years, his policy declaration Thursday was beneath him: silly, petty, utterly illogical, and a bit surprising. As for its legitimacy: Playing coy with other managers and coaches these days is ridiculous. Players share friends and agents. Everybody knows who’s hurt, how badly they’re hurt, and what their availability is. Any coach or manager that doesn’t understand that is delusional.
Besides, if you were Red Sox manager Alex Cora or Marlins manager Don Mattingly, you’d have been delighted to see Bryce Harper get off the bench. He’s 2-for-26 with 13 strikeouts and two walks in his last seven games. By the time he landed on the injured list Tuesday, he hadn’t played in two days. Bryce Harper? Yes, please.
Anyway, you can’t really blame the Phillies’ skipper for being curt. He’s dealing with a lot right now.
Middle of the order out
Harper, Girardi’s best player, has played in just 38 of 51 games, mainly due to back, shoulder, and wrist injuries. He will miss at least the next four before he can be reinstated from the injured list. Veteran shortstop Didi Gregorius has played 32 games and was eligible to return from the injured list Monday but remained out with, as he put it, “a huge bump” on his elbow. Starting catcher J.T. Realmuto, Girardi’s second-best player, has played in just 35 of 51 games, mainly due to a bone bruise he suffered April 29. Before Realmuto came off the list on Saturday and started behind the plate against Tampa Bay, Girardi said Realmuto “had another good day” on Thursday.
Wait a minute: That sounds a lot like an injury update. But then, Girardi only swore off availabilities.
So: Updates, cool. Availabilities, uncool. Got it.
Can we still talk about errors?
Misplays and misadventures
Girardi was an elite defensive catcher. He cannot abide sloppy, inattentive fielding, yet that has been a trademark of both editions of the Phillies teams he has managed. The Phillies rank last in defensive runs saved, at minus-32, according to FieldingBible.com. They also were minus-32 last season, which ranked them 28th among 30 teams.
Segura missed a showboat play May 16, which precipitated a dugout blowout between Girardi and Segura, who’d dropped a fly ball the night before. Segura was not alone. On May 12, a fly ball dropped in right-center field between Harper and center fielder Odubel Herrera. A handful of fielding mistakes in a loss at Miami on Wednesday night didn’t help Girardi’s humor Thursday.
After all, sharp defense is viewed as a manager’s responsibility. It’s an issue that concerns focus, discipline, and repetitions. You don’t need nine Gold Glovers to catch routine fly balls, to field simple grounders, or to hit the cutoff man. You need a manager who makes sure the fielders he has play crisply. This has, so far, been Girardi’s largest failing, and he knows it.
Armed, but not dangerous
Girardi has issues far beyond dumb, lazy defense. His “ace” isn’t an ace; Aaron Nola is just a very good pitcher.
Girardi lacks a dependable set-up man for closer Hector Neris. Big lefty Jose Alvarado throws 100 mph, and has 25 strikeouts in 17 innings, but he also has 16 walks and four wild pitches.
“I always feel good about Alvy when he goes out there,” said Girardi, the only person in the galaxy who feels that way.
Neris, with three losses and two blown saves in 23 appearances, hasn’t been a rock-solid performer, either.
There’s more. Girardi’s current No. 4 starter is a seventh-year enigma Vince Velasquez, who hasn’t pitched past the sixth inning since August of 2019. Girardi’s fifth starter is five-inning rookie Spencer Howard, who just learned that he needs to eat more food before he pitches.
Seriously: Joe Girardi might have to start feeding his fifth starter.
The Phillies have struck out 513 times in 51 games. That projects to 1,635 strikeouts this season, which would break the major-league record of 1,595, set in 2019 by the Tigers ... who won 47 games and might be the worst team in baseball history. The holes in the lineup have been massive.
Leadoff hitter Andrew McCutchen, and we use that term loosely, is hitting .202. This, thanks to a scorching May, in which he is ripping along at ... .223. Don’t sneer; that’s 54 points better than his .169 April. And McCutchen makes the Phillies’ left field look productive compared to center field.
Center fielders Roman Quinn (8-for-50), Mickey Moniak (3-for-25), Adam Haseley (4-for-21), and Scott Kingery (1-for-19) went 16-for-115 and hit .139. Herrera returned from the minors April 27 and put up a .258 batting average and .738 OPS. Herrera has just two home runs, yet Girardi had to bat him in the cleanup spot Thursday.
Nobody in the history of baseball needed a Friday off as badly as Joseph Elliott Girardi.
On the whole ...
Still, somehow, the Phillies entered Friday a second-place team. Maybe that’s Girardi’s genius. His is a team that plays very hard, if not always very well; they specialize in late-inning heroics. The players like each other and accept each other’s shortcomings, from Segura’s moodiness to Harper’s fashion offenses.
As a player and manager, Girardi has seen it all. He’s been with the madcap Cubs, the ragtag Marlins, the nascent Rockies, the staidly traditional Cardinals and Yankees, and now, the Phillies, the big-market team with the small-market history. Girardi usually deals with all of it -- the craziness, the austerity, the entitlement, the inferiority complex -- with equanimity; bemused; above the fray. Thursday, he’d had enough.
So, give Girardi a break.
He’s got a team that can’t catch, can’t throw, can’t pitch, can’t make contact, can’t stay healthy, can’t think, and can’t even remember when to eat.
And it’s not even June yet.