The Phillies had grand designs yesterday that Ranger Suarez was going to be effective enough that the soft underbelly of the bullpen wasn’t going to be exposed. The meat grinder that is the Braves’ lineup made sure that that plan was put in tatters early, using Suarez’s lack of command against him, refusing to chase pitches out of the zone, eventually driving him from the game in the fourth inning.
That meant that manager Rob Thomson was forced to go to pitchers he probably wasn’t comfortable putting on the mound, forced to use pitchers for longer than he probably wanted to and forced to rethink how he can deploy his bullpen, if needed, in today’s game in Atlanta. With Zack Wheeler on the mound, it’s likely the Philadelphia ace gets as much of a leash as he wants so long as the Braves aren’t batting him around the field. Looking at how Wheeler has done this year against Atlanta, that’s not exactly a sure bet. He’s faced them three times and they’ve done pretty well (.240/.260/.413, 25 K, 1 BB, 3 HR) so we’ll have to assume that the bullpen is going to play a part in today’s game at some point.
The question becomes: who?
No chance - Connor Brogdon, Bailey Falter
With Noah Syndergaard having warmed up a bit yesterday and in Saturday’s clincher, it’s possible that, should they need it, the team has already decided that Bailey Falter will be the game four starter. It’s possible that Suarez comes back on short rest, but a) they probably don’t want to do that, and b) he didn’t exactly instill confidence with his performance in yesterday’s game that bringing him back on short rest is even a good idea. Lining up Falter means the team will probably not want to risk injury to him unnecessarily, so can probably cross him off the list of pitchers available for today.
Connor Brogdon has been dreadful for a month now and looks like he has no confidence in his pitches right now. The reason for his even getting in the game yesterday was defensible (someone needed to pitch an inning in relief), but the way he struggled with command coupled with the number of other, better options, it’s possible Brogdon has seen his last postseason inning on the mound in 2022.
Highly doubtful - Seranthony Dominguez, Nick Nelson, Kyle Gibson, Noah Syndergaard
Nick Nelson is probably only on the roster as someone who can throw if the game gets out of hand or they need to use someone early in the game. The Braves were forced into this very same situation when Jesse Chavez came into the game yesterday, so if the Braves are able to get to Wheeler, Nelson might be the play if only to save the rest of the bullpen for another day. It’s not the most glamorous job, but it’s a necessary job.
Kyle Gibson and Syndergaard present interesting possibilities. The optimum usage for both would be for neither to throw a pitch in the game. However, the weather is starting to look rocky for the beginning of the game as it is. If baseball decides to let the game begin with Wheeler on the mound only to then be delayed for an extended period, that would knock Wheeler from the hill. That means the team would be forced to bring in someone to give them some innings, almost equal to that of a starter should the game get delayed after it starts. Picking between the two is choosing the lesser of two evils, but this is probably their best chance at pitching, depending of course on the team’s plans for Game 4.
Dominguez being able to go two innings yesterday was arguably the key to the game. Not only was he efficient enough in his first inning of work, he was also efficient enough that using him in today’s game isn’t completely out of the question. The off day tomorrow means the team might be a little more willing to use him than they may have been had this been the regular season, but there is a chance. It probably wouldn’t be more than 20 pitches, if that, but the possibility exists.
No more than an inning - Jose Alvarado, Zach Eflin, Andrew Bellatti
Speaking of efficient...
Jose Alvarado was excellent yet again yesterday, throwing enough pitches that his availability should not be in question. The same goes for Zach Eflin, even if that home run he allowed to Matt Olson may have shaken the faith of those who believe he can close out games. The question becomes: how much does Thomson want to use them the day after he gave them some stressful innings the previous day? Sure, the scoreboard may not have said the situation was stressful, but c’mon - this is the playoffs. All innings are stressful innings.
It may not have been pretty, but Andrew Bellatti did his job yesterday and threw only 17 pitches in the outing. With Dominguez likely limited, at best, in what he can do and David Robertson at home, Bellatti is probably the 4th best option the team has right now out of the bullpen. If someone is needed in the 6th inning, he is probably getting the ball.
If they need someone to finish an inning - Brad Hand
MLB’s three batter rule is weird and probably not needed anymore with the pitch clock coming, but there is that part that says if a pitcher finishes an inning in only one batter, he may be removed from the game. This is how Hand was deployed yesterday and likely how he is deployed in the rest of the series. Coming off some elbow issues, the team probably wants to be cautious with him, but if the scenario rises where Matt Olson is due up with two outs earlier than Alvarado Time, Hand is going to get the call.
Things could always change, of course, so we’ll have to see how Thomson plays things out. The off day tomorrow will help for sure, but Thomson also has to be sure not to blow someone out with overuse. It’s a balancing act, but the Phillies must walk that tightrope if they want to put a stranglehold on this series.