Phillies vs. Marlins: Ian Kennedy shuts the door with 2-inning win

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Ian Kennedy shuts the door in Miami as Phillies' bullpen experiment clicks on Day 1 originally appeared on NBC Sports Philadelphia

A year ago, the Phillies were denied entry to the playoffs for a ninth straight season because their bullpen was historically awful.

Now, they're asking even more of their bullpen as they try to stop that playoff drought from reaching a full decade.

With Zach Eflin likely out for the rest of the season, the Phils go just four deep in their starting rotation. There is no real depth, or at least none that manager Joe Girardi appears to trust.

So, every fifth game for the remainder of the season, Girardi will ask the bullpen to pick up nine innings, keep the team in the game and perhaps lead a win, all while filling its regular duties the other days of the week.

It's a lot to ask.

But so far, so good. 

Nine Phillies relievers covered 10 innings and allowed just two hits on Sunday. The Phils got homers from Bryce Harper and Freddy Galvis and a huge RBI single from Odubel Herrera with two outs in the top of the 10th to beat the Miami Marlins, 4-3, and salvage a win in the three-game road series. The Phils head to Milwaukee trailing first-place Atlanta by just two games in the NL East. They are also just 2½ games back in the wild card. There are 26 games remaining.

"The first two games here, we didn't play well, myself included," Harper said. "So this was a huge win. It was a great opportunity to put this series behind us and make sure we at least got one of the three before going to Milwaukee.

"We've got a great opportunity to be great. We've got to believe in ourselves. We know the fan base and the city is behind us. I don't think we have any fear in our minds. We just have to keep going, keep handling business, not worry about what other teams are doing. We have to win games. It doesn't matter if you don't win."

Zack Wheeler, who ranks 12th in the majors with a 3.01 ERA, will start Monday afternoon's game in Milwaukee. He will oppose Brandon Woodruff, who ranks third in the majors with a 2.35 ERA.

Wheeler will pitch with an extra day of rest, which is a good thing. He leads the majors with 182⅔ innings pitched and will need to go deep into the game just because the Phils had to go deep into the 'pen on Sunday.

It's going to be that way every fifth game the rest of the season. Getting innings from the rotation on those other four days will be imperative for the plan to work.

"I believe so," Girardi said when asked if there were enough innings in the rotation to make the plan work. "We'll figure it out. If we have to shuffle people back and forth from Triple A to get fresh arms, we'll do that."

The irony of Sunday's strong bullpen performance was that the Phillies raised their majors-leading (and club record) total of blown saves to 29 when they let a one-run lead get away in the sixth as the Marlins rallied for an unearned run after first baseman Brad Miller opened the inning with an error behind Jose Alvarado.

Girardi went to closer Ian Kennedy in a tie game in the bottom of the ninth. Kennedy was dominant, throwing 13 pitches in the frame. He stayed on for the bottom of the 10th, after Herrera's go-ahead hit, and got three more outs for the win. He struck out the final two batters of the game with a runner on third.

Kennedy attacked with his fastball and struck out four of the six batters he faced. Since joining the Phillies in a deadline trade, the 36-year-old right-hander and father of six has picked up a win and six saves in seven chances. He's not automatic in the ninth inning, but he does have a way of keeping cool when all hell is breaking loose and that means something after all the nervous ninth innings the Phils have had this season and last.

"It's nice to know he's not going to get rattled," Girardi said. "He's not going to beat himself. He's going to make pitches. He's not going to be perfect like any other closer isn't perfect, but you know he can handle the situation."

Kennedy has won the approval of Harper.

"He's done a great job for us," Harper said. "He's a great veteran presence in the clubhouse and bullpen. He doesn't get overwhelmed. I love his fire and passion on the mound. He's going to be good for us down the stretch. We just need to make sure we're winning games and bringing him in in the ninth to keep it where it's at."

The Phils are just 12-19 in Miami since the start of 2018. One win does not erase their troubles there and they still have three to play there -- Games 160, 161 and 162 -- in a few weeks. But Sunday's win was crucial. And afterward, there was a sense of relief in the clubhouse.

"We were very excited," Herrera said. "We put the music loud and everybody was happy. Now we go to Milwaukee. We have to stay positive and try to win every day."

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