Brandon Kintzler survived a month of emotional stress to win spot with Phillies

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Jim Salisbury
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Kintzler survived a month of emotional stress to win spot with Phillies originally appeared on NBC Sports Philadelphia

Brandon Kintzler's monthlong tryout with the Phillies was a trip through an emotional meat grinder.

Alone in a Clearwater hotel room, without his family because of COVID protocols, the 36-year-old reliever's mind was a prisoner of the pitching schedule posted on the clubhouse wall.

"You can talk yourself into a lot of bad thoughts, like how bad you can really mess this next outing up," Kintzler said. "Scheduled outings are the worst. I'd rather be surprised that I'm going to pitch that day. The fact that you get two or three days to think about this outing creates a lot of time for anxiety to build. It drove me nuts and I hated it."

Last weekend, the anxiety of fighting for his baseball life took a backseat to some real-life pain.

Kintzler's 5-year-old son, Knox, was involved in a crash during a BMX race in Phoenix. Kintzler scurried to find a flight home when his wife, Melissa, told him to stay put, that everything was going to be OK. Knox suffered a broken jaw but came out of surgery just fine.

"The poor little guy," Kintzler said. "He's doing well now. He's healing."

While Kintzler monitored his son's condition from 2,100 miles away, something happened.

He stopped stressing over whether he was going to make the Phillies' roster.

"Baseball went out the window," he said. "It put everything in perspective."

Ultimately, Kintzler, like his little boy, came out on top.

On Friday, the pitcher learned that he'd made the Phillies' opening day roster.

He'd won the wager he placed on himself over the winter.

Kintzler put up good numbers out of the Miami Marlins' bullpen last year — a 2.22 ERA and 12 saves in 24 appearances. But after the season, the Marlins did not pick up his $4 million option. Instead, late in the offseason, they offered him a guaranteed contract worth $2 million. Speak with Kintzler for five minutes and you can tell he's got some badger in him — he's feisty and competitive — so it's not really surprising he told the Marlins thanks-but-no-thanks and took a minor-league deal with the Phillies that would pay $3 million, plus incentives — if he made the club.

Kintzler, an All-Star with the Twins in 2017, made it by allowing just one earned run in 8⅔ innings. He struck out nine and walked two.

"I don't recommend it for everybody," Kintzler said of his decision to pass on guaranteed money for a tryout situation. "But it's probably one of the proudest accomplishments I think I've had in my career. 

"It wasn't easy, definitely a mental grind. Luckily, they gave me every opportunity to make the team, and the fact that I did it is a relief.

"I think the easy part is now to go win games. This part was definitely a lot harder than the regular seasons."

Two other well-credentialed veteran relievers in camp weren't as fortunate as Kintzler. Hector Rondon and Tony Watson both became free agents when they were told they would not make the club.

"There's a lot of great guys here," Kintzler said. "The young kids have great stuff and not only that, they're throwing strikes. Once that happened, it's tough for all of us older guys to compete. They've got, obviously, cheaper (options) and they want these kids to get experience. But when they perform with that stuff, it makes it hard for all of us. It was tough to see those guys go and, luckily, I was the one who made it out."

The Phillies had the worst bullpen in the majors last year but with an upgrade of talent that includes Kintzler, Archie Bradley and Jose Alvarado, should be improved in 2021. Kintzler said the key to that improvement is something that served him well earlier in his career:

Attack hitters.

Don't be afraid to fail.

"The fear of failure is behind me," he said. "I think that's what gets guys in trouble early in their careers. At this point, I'm not afraid to fail. I just want to win. I've learned hitting is hard so if you make these guys swing the bat a lot of times you're going to come out on top.

"With the guys we have, if we don't put pressure on ourselves and we're not afraid to fail, I don't see why we can't turn it around."

Bullpens are teams within a team. Chemistry is important. This is veteran wisdom that a bullpen can benefit from.

Kintzler has pitched in every role in the bullpen during his 11-year career. What does he see as his role with the Phillies?

"Um, I'm the oldest guy, just happy to be here," he said with a laugh before becoming serious.

"The good thing about this 'pen is nobody cares where they pitch, we just want to win," he said. "But it would be nice if things eventually lined up and everyone knows their job. Once everything starts lining up, that's when bullpens take off."

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