In the midst of the Phillies’ 9-8 loss on Wednesday night to the Miami Marlins, there was a lot of consternation that was unrelated to Trea Turner.

Primarily, it was about how Rob Thomson deployed his relievers.

After Zack Wheeler pitched six innings, the Phillies turned to Matt Strahm, hoping to get two innings out of him. He was fine in the seventh inning, but in the eighth, he got into some trouble, and was relieved by Jeff Hoffman, who didn’t quite get completely out of that trouble.

That meant the Phillies, who had led 5-0 going into the bottom of the sixth, were headed into the bottom of the ninth clinging to a 5-4 lead. Everyone assumed Craig Kimbrel was coming on for the save.

Except, he didn’t.

Instead, it was Gregory Soto, who, prior to coming to the Phillies was an All-Star closer for the Detroit Tigers, so it wasn’t an unfamiliar role.

However, TV broadcasters Tom McCarthy and Ruben Amaro Jr. were perplexed by the decision to go to Soto and not Kimbrel, having no prior knowledge about Kimbrel not being available.

It should be known that broadcasters usually have a separate chat with the manager pregame to glean information that might be useful during the broadcast with the understanding that they won’t leak out any gameplan secrets until the time in the game arises.

So hearing McCarthy and Amaro being surprised at Soto being deployed and not Kimbrel means they weren’t privy to this decision.

Of course, that surprise also unintentionally fans the flames of the vocal minority who hate every decision the manager makes, likes none of the players, and declares the Phillies as the worst team ever.

So, it’s not unexpected that the reaction of that segment of Phillies Twitter (are we supposed to start saying Phillies X? I don’t know. I’m not there. This is as dumb as the Inquirer bailing on Philly.com) was as visceral as it was.

Of course, Soto blew the save, yielding a solo homer to Jorge Soler, which only amplified the negativity:

Then, in a seemingly inexplicable move, the Phillies turned to Kimbrel in the 10th inning to nail down a save following a Brandon Marsh home run that put them back in front 7-5.

The cacophonous chorus of critics started chortling that if Kimbrel can pitch the 10th, why couldn’t he pitch the ninth?

The answer was simple, the Phillies were trying to give Kimbrel another day’s rest. If they could avoid using him, all the better. Remember, they are playing 17 days in a row without an off day. Managing the bullpen is going to be a little trickier during this stretch, especially since they are going with one fewer bullpen arm for a couple weeks as they temporarily turn to a six-man starting rotation.

Because the Phillies have been locked into a lot of close ball games, Kimbrel has been used a lot lately. Wednesday was his 10th appearance in 17 days. It was also him pitching for the third time in four nights.

The last time that happened, he blew a save in one game and lost another. The time before that he was fine, but it was also coming off the All-Star break, meaning he had only pitched once in five days, and that was in the All-Star Game itself. He came through mostly unscathed earlier in the season when he pitched three-times in four nights, but that was before he accrued so many innings. By August, at 35, there’s a little more wear and tear on an arm than there is in May.

Kimbrel ended up giving up two runs and blowing the save. Since the All-Star break he’s been good, but not as good as he was previously. In those 10 appearances, he’s had four saves, one win, one loss and two blown saves. He has a 2.70 ERA and a 1.000 WHIP with eight strikeouts and four walks. Those are certainly acceptable numbers, but compare them to the 10 games previous to them:

0.00 ERA; 0.500 WHIP; 15K, 1BB

You can understand why the Phillies want to be careful about his usage. They want the pre-All-Star game Kimbrel in September and October.

The other thing people were perplexed by was Kimbrel’s intentional balk:

https://twitter.com/MrMatthewCGI/status/1686920481394270208?s=20

Immediate thoughts on this:

  • It’s a smart idea if you feel like the opposition is trying to relay signals from the runner on second to the batter identifying pitches. It’s not that Kimbrel tips pitches where, as a batter, you can tell what’s coming based on physical mechanics, but rather, if there’s a runner on second, it’s easier to see his grip and relay it to the batter.
  • The runner does not matter if you are protecting a lead of greater than one run. The only way he becomes a runner to worry about is if you walk or hit a batter, creating a force out possibility at third base. Otherwise, let him go to third so the runner can’t relay information to the batter. It’s basically the equivalent of defensive indifference when you let a runner steal a base without holding him or throwing to try and catch him. The only difference is by balking you are forcing him to the next bag rather than making him take it himself.
  • Kimbrel should look to see if it’s too easy to see his pitch grip before delivering the ball, and fix that.
  • Kudos to my son for pointing out that in the broadcast they showed Yuli Gurriel talking to Jesus Sanchez, who ended up on second base later in the inning, during a mound visit from Phillies pitching coach Caleb Cotham. In the quick snippet of the broadcast Gurriel is clearly telling Sanchez how to read the grip on Kimbrel. It was also worth pointing out that Gurriel was a member of the cheatin’ Houston Astros in 2017 and that his numbers dipped considerably after that scandal was brough to light.

That’s it. The bullpen usage made sense, the pitchers just didn’t perform. If the Phillies didn’t blow the game, the usage would be a footnote, at best. The balk also made sense. Kimbrel needs to look at hiding the ball a little better with a runner on second, but otherwise, it’s not a bad idea to do that every time you lead by more than a run when in extra innings.