The Phillies' 5-4 loss Wednesday night showed just how impactful MLB's new three-batter rule for relievers can be.
With one out and the bases empty in the eighth inning and his team up one, Phillies manager Joe Girardi lifted Zack Wheeler for left-hander Adam Morgan. Wheeler was at only 95 pitches but he was pitching through a fingernail injury and was set to face the top of the Mets' order, which doubled, homered and singled the previous turn.
And so with left-handers Brandon Nimmo and Michael Conforto due up next, Girardi went to the southpaw Morgan. The Mets countered by pinch-hitting Pete Alonso for Nimmo. Alonso grounded out, then Conforto walked.
At that point, under pre-2020 circumstances, Morgan could have been pulled for a right-hander. Due up was J.D. Davis, a .298 hitter with an .884 OPS the last two seasons against lefties. He promptly tied the game with a two-out RBI double off of Morgan.
Beginning this season, MLB instituted a rule that a reliever must face three batters after entering an inning unless that inning ends first.
In a previous year in that spot, the Phillies could have had one of their many (shaky) right-handers like David Phelps, Tommy Hunter, Heath Hembree, Brandon Workman or Hector Neris warmed up for Davis. They could have had a second lefty warming in case the inning was extended for left-handed-hitting Dom Smith and Robinson Cano.
The Phils were without JoJo Romero Wednesday after a two-inning stint Tuesday, but they did have lefty Garrett Cleavinger in the 'pen.
Girardi was questioned after the game for removing Wheeler in that spot. Too often this season, the Phillies have needed Wheeler and Aaron Nola to go complete to give them a chance to win. If this was 1979 and pitchers still went complete, that wouldn't be a big deal, but it just doesn't happen regularly anymore, anywhere. Wheeler is actually a true workhorse in modern standards, second in the National League to Jacob deGrom since the start of last season with 16 starts of at least seven innings.
Wheeler and Nola have a combined 2.51 ERA in 18 starts. They are as fearsome a 1-2 punch as any in the National League. The Phillies should be much better than 11-7 in their starts.