Philadelphia Phillies: Charlie Manuel's Early Use of Jonathan Papelbon Baffling

Ian CasselberryMLB Lead WriterApril 9, 2012

Jonathan Papelbon's confused reaction wasn't photographed over the weekend, but it could have been.
Jonathan Papelbon's confused reaction wasn't photographed over the weekend, but it could have been.Jonathan Ferrey/Getty Images

The good news for Jonathan Papelbon is that he wasn't among the number of closers who blew saves in the 2012 season's first weekend.

The bad news, as far as many Philadelphia Phillies fans are concerned, is that manager Charlie Manuel didn't use the team's new $50 million closer while the Pittsburgh Pirates earned two walk-off victories.

On Saturday, the Pirates won in the bottom of the 10th inning when Alex Presley hit an RBI single off Joe Blanton for the game-winning run.

Yes, Joe Blanton—not Jonathan Papelbon.

On Sunday, the Phillies fell yet again to the walk-off RBI single, as Andrew McCutchen drove in the game-winner against David Herndon.

David Herndon—not Jonathan Papelbon. 

Though it's certainly no guarantee that Papelbon wouldn't have also given up those walk-off hits, resulting in the Phillies losing their season-opening series, using arguably the bullpen's best reliever—and certainly its best-paid—would have increased the chances for success.

So, what's the deal? At first glance, it looks like Manuel was managing to the save rule. Both games on Saturday and Sunday were tied in the late innings, when the closer would typically be brought in. 

Some managers, such as Charlie Manuel, don't bring their closers into tied ballgames.
Some managers, such as Charlie Manuel, don't bring their closers into tied ballgames.Jared Wickerham/Getty Images

But many managers believe that you don't call for the closer when the game is tied on the road. Since there was no save opportunity to be had, Manuel decided to keep his closer on the bench.

However, as The Philadelphia Inquirer's Matt Gelb points out, Manuel could have brought Papelbon in on Sunday when the Phillies had a 4-3 lead with two outs in the eighth inning. Of course, that would've required Papelbon to pitch more than one inning—something Manuel and pitching coach Rich Dubee didn't want to do so early in the season.

Furthermore, Dubee said he wanted to use Papelbon in the 10th inning on Saturday night. But he decided against it because Papelbon had already warmed up twice. That called to mind memories of Brad Lidge warming up six times during the 2008 All-Star Game, reportedly throwing more than 100 pitches

"How many times am I going to crank Pap up?” Dubee said to's Todd Zolecki

Fair point. But that compels the natural question: Why not just pitch Papelbon if you've already warmed him up?

Because it wasn't a save situation and the Phillies had no other closer, Dubee argued. 

This is why writers like Jonah Keri are calling for the save rule to be abolished, though he used a different example (Chris Perez) and much different reasoning (Manny Acta rushing him back to close games) for his conclusion.

PITTSBURGH, PA - APRIL 05:  Jonathan Papelbon #58 of the Philadelphia Phillies pitches against the Pittsburgh Pirates during the Opening Day game on April 5, 2012 at PNC Park in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Jared Wickerham/Getty Images)
Jared Wickerham/Getty Images

Papelbon finally did see some action for the Phillies on Monday. But it was a meaningless ninth inning, during which Philadelphia was down, 5-2, to the Miami Marlins.

Since Papelbon hadn't pitched over the weekend, Manuel put him in so he could get some work and stay relatively sharp. Papelbon gave up a home run to Austin Kearns, which indicates he may not have been at full focus pitching in a low-leverage situation, where nothing was really at stake.

So, what's better: using Papelbon in a game that was essentially decided already (barring a ninth-inning rally) or bringing him in when there was still a game to be won? 

Unfortunately for the Phillies, Manuel's answer may have cost his team two games. We'll see if those end up making a difference in the standings this season.