ATLANTA — If ever there was a time for Joe Girardi to break his managerial commandment — thou shalt not use thy relievers three days in a row early in a season — it was after Bryce Harper’s two-run homer gave the Phillies a 5-4 lead in the ninth inning here Tuesday night.
But Girardi never wavered.
“No,” he said Wednesday after sleeping on the decision to keep closer Corey Knebel in the bullpen and stick with Nick Nelson, who gave up two runs in a crushing 6-5 walk-off loss to the Atlanta Braves. “Again, go look at how many relievers are on the [injured list]. Look how many guys had Tommy John [elbow surgery] last year or were hurt. We’ve been pretty lucky here.
“And you win over the long haul. You don’t win in 40 games. You win over 162 games, and the way you win is by keeping people healthy. Because people aren’t replaceable. Certain people aren’t replaceable.”
Girardi said he explained his three-day rule for relievers to Knebel before and after Tuesday night’s game. Knebel threw 23 pitches in the 10th inning Sunday and nine in a tense non-save situation Monday night.
Knebel said Wednesday he understands. He said his two previous managers, Milwaukee’s Craig Counsell and the Dodgers’ Dave Roberts, had similar approaches to reliever usage.
“Every manager has their rules,” Knebel said. “That’s [Girardi’s] rule. No three days in a row for relievers this early in the season. We talked. That’s it. We’re on the same page.”
But that doesn’t mean Knebel didn’t think about calling down to the dugout after Harper’s homer to talk his way into the game. He said he never picked up the phone. If he had, though, he had a potential compromise at the ready.
“If you go out there and you [win] the first two games of the series, I threw three days in a row, I won’t throw [Wednesday] and [Thursday]. That’s it,” Knebel said. “[Girardi] decided he wanted a down [day] and I’ll be used [Wednesday] and [Thursday]. It’s a long season. You take one day off, hopefully it’ll help you out for another two. It’s just the way you look at it.”
Of course, it’s hardly a guarantee the Phillies would have a ninth-inning lead for Knebel to protect Wednesday and Thursday nights, especially because the forecast in Atlanta was calling for two days of rain.
“Right, OK, and what [would’ve] happened if Corey Knebel goes on the IL for 20 days?” Girardi said. “Then [critics] are going to say, ‘Well, why’d you use him three days in a row?’ You’re going to be second-guessed all the time. I’m used to it. I’ve managed in some playoffs. I’m used to it. It’s part of the job.
“Talk radio wouldn’t have a voice if everyone wasn’t managing and coaching and second-guessing. But that’s what makes our sport great. Everyone has a different ideas. I have my ideas, you have your ideas.
“Who cares that I take all the heat? Who cares? That’s my job. It’s what everyone does, right?”
Except, apparently, the Phillies’ brass.
Girardi’s three-day reliever rule served him well for 10 years with the New York Yankees. He mentioned it after his introductory news conference with the Phillies and stuck with it in 2020 and last season. He isn’t about to stray from it now, even though the 2023 option in his contract has not yet been picked up.
And Girardi said his bosses, notably president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski, have never objected to his bullpen usage guidelines.
“They’ve never questioned me on it,” he said. “They don’t question me.”
As a matter of course, Dombrowski doesn’t publicly discuss his manager’s job security. Asked earlier this week about Girardi’s status amid the Phillies’ disappointing 20-23 start, Dombrowski said, “Joe’s been fine.”
“My support of a manager is that they’re managing, right?” Dombrowski said. “If I didn’t support them, they wouldn’t be managing.”
The Braves scratched star right fielder Ronald Acuña Jr. from the lineup Wednesday night because of tightness in his right quadriceps. ... Left-hander Bailey Falter didn’t pitch Tuesday night at triple-A Lehigh Valley as scheduled because the Phillies are thinking of going with a sixth starter for one turn through the rotation. They are in the midst of a stretch of 16 games in as many days. “We just feel like our starters could probably use an extra day,” Girardi said. “Just because we’re in such a long stretch. Our guys have been worked pretty hard. Just thought it’s in their best interest.” ... Aaron Nola (1-4, 3.96 ERA) will start Thursday night, weather permitting, in the series finale against Braves right-hander Kyle Wright (4-2, 2.49).