Phillies give up 13 runs to Royals, but it didn’t have to be this way

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I should start by writing about the intentional walk that went bad in the Royals’ rout of the Phillies on Friday.  With the Phillies up 4-2 and one out in the sixth, manager Charlie Manuel decided he’d rather have lefty Jeremy Horst face Alex Gordon with the bases loaded than Kyle Kendrick or a right-handed reliever face pinch-hitter Billy Butler with runners on second and third.

That, I think, is a defensible decision. Gordon is excellent, but not so much against lefties, while Horst limited lefties to a .170 average last season.

Gordon, of course, made it look bad, delivering a triple that put the Royals on top 5-4. Kansas City just kept piling on from there, finally winning the game 13-4.

But rather than focus on Manuel’s intentional walk, I’d rather point towards Ruben Amaro’s bullpen. Because it should be noted that five of the Royals’ runs today came against a pair of 35-year-old journeymen: Chad Durbin and Raul Valdes.

The Phillies finished last season loaded with talented, but unproven, young relievers: Phillippe Aumont, Justin De Fratus, Jake Diekman, Josh Lindblom, Michael Schwimer. All were rather successful in the minors, some had shown flashes in the majors. All were 24-26 years old.

Right now, just one of those pitchers in on the major league roster: Aumont. He worked one scoreless inning in the Opening Day loss to the Braves and hasn’t been seen since. De Fratus and Diekman are in Triple-A. Lindblom was sent to Texas for Michael Young. Schwimer was given away to the Blue Jays because he threatened a grievance over how the Phillies handled an injury last year.

Instead of those intriguing younger arms, the Phillies are going with Durbin and Valdes. And it’s not because they needed the experience late in games. They’re paying through the nose for Jonathan Papelbon and Mike Adams to work the last two innings. It’s because Amaro, when it doubt, much prefers his veterans. Time will tell whether it pays off.

There was another miscommunication between the Phillies and Pat Neshek

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Back in June 2017, then-manager of the Phillies Pete Mackanin and reliever Pat Neshek had some miscommunication. In a series against the Cardinals, Neshek worked a five-pitch eighth inning and it was believed he would come back out for the ninth inning, but he never did. Mackanin said Neshek said he didn’t want to pitch another inning. Neshek said he was never asked. There was also some miscommunication the game prior. Neshek thought he had the day off; Mackanin said Neshek said he wasn’t available to pitch.

Mackanin is no longer the Phillies’ manager, but the miscommunication between Neshek and the team apparently persist. Neshek was notably absent during the Phillies’ hard-fought 5-4 win over the Cubs on Monday night. The game featured a struggling Seranthony Domínguez pitching two innings, yielding three crucial runs in his second inning of work.

Manager Gabe Kapler called the bullpen and instructed Neshek to begin warming up to prepare to face Albert Almora, Matt Breen of the Philadelphia Inquirer reports. Kapler rang the bullpen after Domínguez walked Jason Heyward, who batted ahead of Almora. Neshek wasn’t warmed up yet. Domínguez was able to retire Almora on a sacrifice bunt, which was reviewed and gave Neshek some extra time to get ready. He was ready for the next batter, Daniel Descalso, but at this point Kapler no longer wanted to bring Neshek into the game. Descalso lined a triple to left-center field, scoring two runs and came home himself when shortstop Jean Segura‘s throw caromed off of his foot out of play.

Recounting the situation, Neshek said, “I got on the mound and threw two pitches. [Kapler] said, ‘Is he ready?’ And I said, ‘No. I’m not ready yet. I’ve thrown two pitches.” Neshek was asked how long it takes him to get ready. The veteran said, “A minute. Not 20 seconds. I’m, like, the best in the league at getting ready. My whole career has been coming in like that.”

The Phillies were able to eke out a 5-4 win. Had they lost the game, Kapler and Neshek would likely have been under the microscope for the awkward situation leading to a crushing defeat. Kapler drew plenty of criticism over his bullpen management last year in his rookie managerial season. That included bringing in lefty reliever Hoby Milner into a game in which he hadn’t yet warmed up.

Maybe it’s just a coincidence that the manager who struggled with bullpen management last year nearly mucked up a win last night, and maybe it’s just a coincidence that a reliever who’s had prior issues with communication had another communication mix-up. Maybe it’s not. It’s worth noting that the Phillies needed three innings from the bullpen to protect a 2-1 lead over the Cubs on Tuesday. Kapler called on rookie Edgar Garcia for two outs, lefty José Álvarez for four, and then brought in Juan Nicasio to close things out in the ninth. No Neshek, even as Nicasio got into trouble. Nicasio would surrender the tying and go-ahead runs, resulting in a deflating 3-2 loss.