This time, Gabe Kapler waited to use the Phillies’ best reliever in the ninth inning.
And still, it didn’t work.
Critics of Kapler, also known as fans of convention, nodded in approval Tuesday night when the Phillies manager brought in veteran set-up man Tommy Hunter to defend a two-run lead in the seventh inning, then used rookie phenom Seranthony Dominguez in the ninth against the St. Louis Cardinals.
But both pitchers faltered. Hunter got blitzed for four runs, turning a two-run lead into a two-run deficit. And after the Phillies rallied to tie the game in the eighth inning, Dominguez yielded the go-ahead homer to Matt Carpenter in a 7-6 loss, after which the Phils also learned that infielder J.P. Crawford will miss 4-6 weeks with a fractured left hand suffered when he got hit by a pitch in the fourth inning.
“It felt like it lined up perfectly,” Kapler said of his bullpen deployment. “It was kind of like we were envisioning it happening, and I don’t know that we would have scripted it differently.”
Nothing about the way Kapler uses his bullpen has gone according to script lately.
Criticized in many circles for choosing his relievers based on matchups rather than predetermined roles in a bullpen that lacks a closer, he managed by the book against the Cardinals. With a two-run lead in the seventh inning, he turned to Hunter, signed by the Phillies in the offseason for the purpose of pitching in those exact situations. Hunter responded by giving up two-run doubles to both Carpenter and Jose Martinez in a four-run inning that put the Phillies in a 6-4 hole.
“It sucks,” Hunter said. “That was a big part of the game. [Starter] Vince [Velasquez] threw his tail off. But it’s just unfortunate that I wasn’t able to get that done right there. It was a big part of the game, and I didn’t come through.”
Kapler typically has turned to Dominguez in a tight game against the meat of a lineup. But after throwing 52 pitches in two games last weekend in Milwaukee, Dominguez was available for only one inning. And Kapler decided it would be later than the seventh.
Besides, Kapler cited Hunter’s advanced metrics — fielding independent pitching, among them — as evidence that the right-hander was actually having a better season that most people would believe by looking at his 4.05 ERA entering Tuesday night’s game. General manager Matt Klentak echoed those sentiments earlier Tuesday, claiming Hunter is having “arguably the best season of his career right now.”
“Nobody’s going to look at Tommy Hunter and say, ‘Wow, he’s having such a great year,’ ” Kapler said last week. “He’s actually having a better year than he had last year. Look at his underlying numbers — his strikeout numbers, his walk numbers, his FIP, his xFIP. The ERA might not be better, but those other numbers are better.”
Once the Phillies tied the game on Rhys Hoskins’ two-run double in the eighth, it was Seranthony Time. But after getting ahead 0-2 to Carpenter, Dominguez threw a pitch in the strike zone that was hooked inside the right-field foul pole. It was the first home run allowed by Dominguez since Aug. 30 of last year — when he was still a starting pitcher at high-A Clearwater.
“To be honest with you I don’t regret it at all because I have a sequence when I pitch,” Dominguez said of throwing an 0-2 strike rather than trying to get Carpenter to chase. “I tried to make a quality pitch. I’m not sure it just stayed hanging in the middle or if it was in, and he just made good contact.”
That’s how it has gone against the Phillies’ bullpen lately, regardless of how Kapler chooses to deploy it.