One facet that will be critical during the final weeks of the season is how the Phillies respond to tough losses. They faced difficult moments this season and seemed to bounce back each time. But tough losses in August are different than tough losses in April. For the Phillies, the response is the same.
Nick Pivetta dazzled, Cesar Hernandez bunted and scored on a three-base error, Asdrubal Cabrera came through again, Nick Williams homered, and the Phillies had a win. Monday's loss hardly lingered and the Phillies kept their first-place lead intact. They are proving to have the mettle required for the stretch run.
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I read David Murphy's column about Gabe Kapler's bullpen usage Tuesday afternoon and was reminded of a conversation with Brad Lidge last month about Kapler's choice of not assigning set roles to his relievers.
There still seems to be a bit of untrust about the way Kapler manages the bullpen. Extra Innings received an email Tuesday morning from Allan L. who wrote "defined roles for his relief staff would allow each one to prepare both physically and mentally in a better way than what it is presently."
Who better to answer that question than Lidge? Lidge, who is with the team this week in Arizona, obviously had a set role when he pitched. Charlie Manuel wasn't using him the way Gabe Kapler uses Seranthony Dominguez. So what does Lidge think of a bullpen without roles?
"It makes a lot of sense in a lot of ways," Lidge said. "You look at the guys going at the very back end right now, they don't have two, three, four years of closing under their belt. They are finding where they can go out and be most effective. As long as the guys are buying into it, then it's fantastic. If you bring a guy over here who had four or five years of closing, I'm guessing he would expect to be closing. If he wasn't, that could kind of mess with it a little bit."
"But these guys are pitching important parts of the game and they're getting the job done. As a bullpen guy, when you're having success, you're happy. I don't think anyone's out there thinking, 'Man, I need five more saves for my arbitration.' No one is thinking selfishly right now. Everybody is just thinking about the matchups that particular night."
Kapler, as outlined in Murphy's column, is playing the numbers with how he manages his bullpen. Murphy broke down why Kapler used Seranthony Dominguez on Sunday in the seventh inning when the traditional manager would have called on a set-up man and saved Dominguez for the ninth. Lidge agrees.
"I've been talking with Chris Young about the analytics," Lidge said of the team's assistant pitching coach. "There are so many more numbers now that you can look at and find matchups for. Honestly, in the five years I've been retired, there's this whole level of common sense and analytics that comes into play. It's not just righty-lefty traditional. You have to use this guy against this guy — left-handed hitter, you have to use a left-handed pitcher. It's who's going to present the best matchup with what this guy hits and not. We have the numbers here to show that now. I don't know what happened in the last five years. Stuff got way more advanced. But it's cool to watch. It's cool to see."
"Look, Seranthony could certainly be a closer. He could probably embrace that role and do great. But when he's buying in to what we're doing right now and you can use him in the seventh or eighth inning in the high-leverage situations, do it. Obviously the proof is in the pudding right now. It's impressive."
Speaking of Brad Lidge, Scott Lauber caught up with Lidge in Arizona to ask him about the advice he's given Seranthony Dominguez as the World Series closer hangs with the team for a few days. Lidge is trying to make sure Dominguez can remain effective as the grind of the season continues.
Nick Pivetta was excellent on Tuesday night as the Phillies continue to receive strong performances from their starting pitchers. Nick Williams, who homered, said the pitching is so good that the fielders can just watch the birds. "No, it's been great. It makes it easier on us," Williams said.
If there was anything to criticize Gabe Kapler for on Monday night, it was his decision to remove Rhys Hoskins and Asdrubal Cabrera for defensive replacements in the eighth inning. Kapler defended his logic and it's hard to argue with what he chose to do. Sometimes baseball happens.
Here's David Murphy's column on Kapler's bullpen shuffle. The Cheese gained some good insight from Tommy Hunter, who described how the relievers bought into Kapler's unorthodox strategy. He set up Murphy to write the line of the year: The 2018 Phillies: The (expletive's) still working.
Today: Phillies close out series in Arizona, 3:40 p.m.
Tomorrow: Phillies are off.
Friday: Zach Eflin opens series in San Diego, 10:10 p.m.
Saturday: Aaron Nola faces the Padres, 8:40 p.m.
Sunday: Jake Arrieta closes out the road trip, 3:40 p.m.
Pat Neshek continues to be excellent since returning from the disabled list. He needed just five pitches Tuesday night to close out the 5-2 win over Arizona. In his last two outings, Neshek has retired all six batters he's faced with an average of three pitches per at-bat. All but one of his 14 appearances have been scoreless.
Question: Is there a reason Gabe refuses to run with Odubel on base? Watching Monday night's excruciating game, had he successfully stolen second on any of the start-stop-starts we would have had an all-important third run and hopefully given Seranthony a cushion. He's not Roman Quinn, but he's not Carlos Santana either. I just don't get it. —Steve B., via email