While Mets manager Luis Rojas is answering postgame questions about job security, Joe Girardi and the Phillies keep chugging along, winning games, changing the outlook of their season and the tone of their fanbase.
The Phils won their seventh consecutive game Saturday afternoon, beating the Mets 5-3 in a game they broke open in the middle innings but had to sweat out in the ninth when reliever Mauricio Llovera served up back-to-back-to-back home runs to Michael Conforto, Jonathan Villar and James McCann.
Closer Ian Kennedy had been stirring in the Phillies’ bullpen prior to the inning but sat down once Brad Miller homered in the eighth to increase the lead to five. In came Llovera for one of the worst outings in franchise history.
Kennedy relieved him and put two men on base before nailing down the save. If not for Girardi’s most hated rule, he’d have gone to Kennedy sooner.
In 2019, MLB instituted a new three-batter rule for relievers, specifying that a pitcher must face at least three batters before being lifted unless the inning ends first. Girardi has said time and again that he’s not a fan of the rule because it significantly changes how a manager manages.
Without the rule? Kennedy may have come in after the first home run. He definitely would have entered after the second.
“The three-batter rule, I will still hate and hate and hate,” Girardi said after the Phillies won to increase their lead over the Mets to 1½ games. “I think it changes the strategy of the game too much. I think it forces you sometimes to use pitchers more than you want to, like the back end (of your bullpen).
“That’s one rule that I wish they would change. I’m all for a lot of the other ones, but that’s one that I think messes with the strategy way too much.”
The Phillies could have brought Kennedy in to start the ninth but opted against it because of how much he’s worked recently. He’s warmed up nearly every day since being acquired at the July 30 trade deadline, had pitched four out of six days and the lead had grown to five. The other options aside from Llovera would have been Enyel De Los Santos (who has struggled), or lefties Matt Moore and Damon Jones.
Kennedy finished the job for his second save as a Phillie. Prior to the ninth inning, Phillies pitchers had held the Mets to no runs on two hits. Ranger Suarez started and pitched 2⅔ innings as he builds stamina. JD Hammer pitched 2⅓ huge innings to bridge the gap to Hector Neris, who went two scoreless. Jose Alvarado worked a clean eighth despite walking his 40th batter in 41⅓ innings.
Neris, in particular, has been razor-sharp of late. Since his meltdown against the Padres on July 4, the former Phils closer has been scoreless in 13 of 14 appearances. During that time he has four holds, a save and three outings of at least two innings.
“Hector is so loved in that clubhouse,” Girardi said. “This is a guy that has a smile every day. He’s just really important to not only our staff but to our clubhouse.
“Hector’s been through this before a bunch of different times in his career where he’s had a tough month. And he always finds a way to come back and pitch pretty well. He’s been a big key to this. He’s played a bunch of different roles in all of this.”
So too has Archie Bradley, who Girardi wanted to stay away from Saturday because it would have been six appearances in eight days. With Zack Wheeler on the mound Sunday and an off day Monday after 25 games in 25 days, the Phillies’ taxed bullpen could get a much-needed rest.