The Phillies have put themselves into a position where having a bullpen game every fifth game in the midst of a playoff chase. Whether through a lack of depth, bad luck or other circumstances, they have had to rely far too often on a group of pitchers to somehow make it through nine innings of a game unscathed as their manager plays the matchups. They could have tried to make someone a starter (Bailey Falter, Adonis Medina, etc.) as the season progressed, but instead they chose to go with the matchups and, presumably, the data that backs having a bullpen day.
So why choose that day to have a major league debut for a starter?
According to Matt Gelb, the team had been preparing all week as though Medina would be starting this game. He did so the last time the team had a planned bullpen day and actually pitched rather well. He got into the fourth inning, only allowing a single run on four hits, striking out three and walking two. Not a great performance, but also nothing to sneeze at. When the team plans on using the bullpen the entire game, if the starter/opener/follower/whatever can give them a good bulk of effective innings, it makes the matchup job that much easier.
However, as Saturday’s afternoon played out, you could almost see the wheels turning in the heads of the manager and pitching coach.
Well, this is interesting. Hans Crouse is here. He is throwing in right field as pitching coach Caleb Cotham watches.— Matt Gelb (@MattGelb) September 25, 2021
It’s as though the team knew they were going to need someone to start the game and they were going to go with someone who the opposition hadn’t seen before, hadn’t prepare for in Crouse. The element of surprise, if you will. After all, as previously mentioned, the other option was Medina and it’s possible the team didn’t like the possibility of Pittsburgh stacking the lineup with left-handed hitters.
Guess what they did against Crouse?
After the game, Girardi discussed his decision to start Crouse over the other options.
We knew that probably all three of the kids were going to have to pitch today and he’s the one that’s really never come out of the bullpen so we thought see if we can get him through a few innings and we’ll go from there and his splits are a little bit better against the lineup once it was set up and what I mean by that is they put a lot of lefties in there today and his splits are a little bit better against lefties.
Using the benefit of hindsight, Crouse wasn’t horrible against the Pirates, but it definitely looked like he was jittery against them. The first pitch home run wasn’t a well located pitch, but he seemed to settle down a bit after that in the inning, but through three innings, he did issue four walks, a testament to how nervous he could have been. He only allowed one run and wasn’t part of the offense that stagnated against a pitcher that came into the game with 7.28 ERA in seven starts. Medina did end up pitching in the game and fared poorly, allowing two runs to score when the game was still close enough to dream on a comeback. So, it’s not as though the decision to start Crouse over Medina was the wrong one in hindsight.
Still, it seems rather interesting that they chose the rookie over other players who might have been a better option. With Ranger Suarez throwing a complete game shutout the day before and an off day scheduled the day after, every arm in the bullpen should have been available. Would Falter have been a better option to start and give an inning or two? How about Medina, who did well his other start and was seemingly prepared to start the game all week? It’s a curious decision that, luckily for the manager, was rendered moot thanks to a lack of offense from his hitters.
It’s a move that says a lot about the state of the team’s pitching depth (remember when Medina was a top prospect?) and the lack of trustworthy options to open a game. Some players were unavailable (Sam Coonrod) that Girardi would have preferred to use and others were going to be used in later situations. It didn’t really seem to matter to much because of the lack of offense on the day, but it still makes you wonder what they were thinking.