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In defense of Joe Girardi

The decision to remove Aaron Nola was the correct one

MLB: Atlanta Braves at Philadelphia Phillies Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports

Let’s get the obvious out of the way: the bullpen right now for the Phillies is bad. Very bad.

This statistic right there is reason enough to desire that the team’s ace, Aaron Nola, at 89 pitches be able to finish a game in which he was cruising. It’s understandable since the leaky bullpen, the no doubt biggest concern headed into the 2020 season, has shown how bad it can actually be.

Yet once Girardi made the decision to pull Nola from the game last night and insert Nick Pivetta into the game, the reaction on social media was swift and critical. No one wanted to see Nola leave the game, not even their radio analyst doing the game in the booth.

Friends, I am with you in lamenting the current state of the bullpen. The standards that we have for them are low at the moment and even then, they are not meeting those expectations. Sure, there has been moments of glory (looking at you, Hector), but for the most part, there hasn’t been anything to write home about.

Even still, Girardi made the right call to pull Nola. Postgame, he gave some answers as to what he was thinking when it came to making the decision to go to the ‘pen.

Injuries are claiming pitchers all over the place in 2020

Injury concern is probably the biggest reason that Girardi was right in his decision making. We don’t know the inner working of Aaron Nola’s elbow, but from all the evidence we’ve seen, it’s still in working order. He has proven to be able to hold up over 200 innings over the course of a full 162 game season. He has proven that even high stress innings (a high number of which is one of the primary reasons for arm injuries) haven’t been able to hold him down. He did not have much reason for stress tonight given that he was spotted to a 12 run lead headed into that ninth inning, but even at only 89 pitches, he likely didn’t exert himself too much.

Yet even with all the evidence in his favor that he is, and will continue to remain, healthy, we don’t know when the pitch will come that will end any pitcher’s season. It becomes the responsibility of the manager to not only protect the pitcher from himself (something Girardi discussed), but also to protect the organization’s commitment to that player. As much as we don’t want to think of baseball as a business, it has to be conceded that the team has a significant financial investment in players and if those players can be protected, it behooves the team to do so. With as large of a lead as the Phillies had last night, it only makes sense to lessen the risk of injury by pulling Nola and handing the keys to the game to someone else. This isn’t 1980 anymore. Pitchers aren’t going to be throwing that many pitches in a game anymore. This is the way it is.

Imagine this scenario: Girardi sends Nola back out and on the 90th pitch, he grabs his elbow. What would your reaction be then? Nola’s continued importance to this team cannot be overstated, especially with the bullpen performing as it is. Is it really worth it risking that when you know he’s healthy in the dugout, the game seemingly in hand?

Shouldn’t pitchers of major league ability be able to get three outs with a 12-run lead?

If you were to sit down and think about it, one would be safe in assuming that any pitcher who is on a major league staff is capable of getting the last three outs of a game. It’s the thought that caused the ill fated “closer by committee” approach that a certain former manager espoused often, choosing to use his best relievers in the highest leverage situation. So with a large lead like the Phillies had, the logical thought from the layperson is that anyone could get these last three outs.

The Braves likely just want to get on the road as quickly as possible, so they’ll just be swinging as much as possible to move the game along. It has to factor into Girardi’s thinking, even after witnessing the almost nightly implosions the bullpen has committed. It leads to the question of what exactly a pitcher, one who has already been removed from the rotation, is doing on a roster if he cannot secure the final three outs of a game in which his team is leading by twelve. It’s a question that has been on the minds of fans around the team for months now, but after last night’s performance, it has to go to the forefront of the evaluator’s minds when it comes to continuing to tinker with the roster. Performances like that cannot continue in this shortened season if the team wishes to make the postseason.

These doubleheaders are going to start creeping up

That’s right, friends.

After tonight’s game, there are five scheduled doubleheaders on the docket so far, with the potential to add more thanks to either more Covid-related hi-jinks or summer thunderstorm weather in the Northeast. The team won’t just need a lot of starters, they’ll need those starters to go deep into those games in order not to expose relievers as much as they have the potential to be exposed.

So, let’s ask yourselves this again.

Would you rather Nola pitch those extra few pitches in the ninth inning of a game that looks to be already in hand, or would rather he have enough bullets to go into the seventh inning of a potentially closer game of a doubleheader? Remember, it may not be often that Girardi has the option to throw Nola and Zack Wheeler in both games of a doubleheader. He may want one or the other to throw 6-7 innings of a regular nine inning affair either before or after. It only makes sense to use Nola and perhaps stretch him a little bit when he actually would need to be stretched rather than in a game like last night’s.

Listen, I’m like many people. I miss the days of pitchers finishing what they started. I love seeing complete games, watching the pitcher and catcher embrace on the mound as they appreciate each other’s ability to get the other through the game. But in this season, when nothing is normal and everything has to be taken differently, Joe Girardi was absolutely right in taking out Aaron Nola.

Quibbling with who replaced him? Now that’s a different story.