On the night of August 5, against the Royals at Citizens Bank Park, Phillies titular closer Craig Kimbrel recorded his 19th save of the season.
That was more than three weeks ago. He hadn’t had another until nailing down Sunday’s 3-0 win over the Cardinals at Citizens Bank Park.
Of course, he hasn’t pitched in a save situation since then, either.
Hard to believe, Harry, but the Phillies had gone 18 straight games prior to that without a ninth-inning chance to protect a lead of three runs or less. (Jeff Hoffman was charged with a blown save in the seventh inning of the second game of the August 8 doubleheader against the Nationals.)
There’s been some local hand-wringing about Kimbrel’s relative lack of effectiveness recently. He’d made six appearances since that last save. In those games he’s 1-2 with a 4.50 earned run average. In the 36 dominant outings prior to that his ERA was 1.50 with 49 strikeouts and 16 hits allowed in 36 innings.
Sunday he gave up a one-out walk to leftfielder Alec Burleson followed by a double by Paul Goldschmidt, but got Nolan Arenado to pop up and struck out Wilson Contreras to preserve the Phillies fourth shutout of the season.
It’s an accepted baseball truism that closers have an extra surge of adrenalin when pitching with the game on the line and often don’t fare nearly as well without that pressure.
In response to a question before the gamer, manager Rob Thomson suggested that there could be a connection between Kimbrel’s lackluster numbers of late and the circumstances under which he’d been appearing.
“I think there is something to the fact that when closers go into a game just to get their work in (they can struggle),” the manager said. “I mean, (Hall of Famer Mariano Rivera). He didn’t want to pitch if it wasn’t a save situation. Not because of his ego or anything like that. He just didn’t feel right. He was all right going nine, 10 days without pitching. Then he’d come in and throw strikes and it didn’t bother him.
“But most guys do need to see hitters and sometimes closers don’t really perform in non-save situations. I think (Kimbrel) will be okay once he gets back into it.”
Kimbrel declined a pregame interview request and was unavailable afterward.
By the way, he now has 11 seasons with at least 20 saves. Only Rivera (16), Trevor Hoffman (15), Lee Arthur Smith (13) and Billy Wagner (12) have more.
The Phillies have been open for business since 1883. Or, to put it another way, this is a franchise that has been operating inside the city limits for about 840 months, give or take.
But not once in all that time have they hit as many home runs in a calendar month as they have in August, 2023 … and there are still three games left to play before September arrives.
When Kyle Schwarber connected off the first pitch thrown by Cardinals starter Drew Rom in the bottom of the first Sunday afternoon, it was the 49th Phillies long ball of the month, extending the record that was set Saturday night. The previous standard was 46 in September, 2019.
Earlier in the season, when power was a commodity that was noticeably missing from the lineup, Rob Thomson consistently expressed confidence that the situation would correct itself. “And around here in July, August, September the ball tends to fly moreso than earlier in the season,” the manager said Sunday. “But I think it’s just the guys just being themselves now. That’s what they do.”
Lefthander Ranger Suarez (strained hamstring) is scheduled to throw live batting practice Monday and, if all goes well, could return to the rotation during the road trip to Milwaukee and San Diego that begins Friday.
When he’s activated, according to Rob Thomson, the Phillies will continue with a 6-man rotation through their September 11 doubleheader against the Braves. “Once that’s done, we’ll have to figure something out,” the manager said, adding that it probably won’t be a difficult decision. (Michael Lorenzen and Cristopher Sanchez) are probably past their innings limit now,” he said. “So whether we piggyback them or somebody just goes to the bullpen. . . I don’t know what that’s going to be, but we could do that.”
He also threw cold water on the possibility that Rhys Hoskins, who tore the ACL in his left knee during spring training, will now be able to complete his rehab in time to play again during the regular season.
“It’s going to be tough because it’s been kind of a slow-moving time frame here lately,” he conceded. “It’s going to be difficult, but we’re still working on it. Some guys heal quicker than other guys and it’s just been kind of slow. There have been a couple times when the knee’s been bothering him, so we just kind of slowed things down. Then it feels good and we start ramping him up.”