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April 18, 2022

Joe Girardi's constant lineup tinkering yielding mixed results

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Kyle-Schwarber-Phillies-04182022-UST Bill Streicher/USA Today Sports

Kyle Schwarber turns on a pitch at Citizens Bank Park.

It was clear that with the DH coming to the National League and the Phillies signing several interchangeable power bats, that manager Joe Girardi would have the ingredients to be creative with his lineups.

Through the Phillies 4-6 start to the year, he's used 10 different lineups in 10 different games. 

Is it possible he is over-tinkering with the cogs in his batting order?

With a 162-game marathon season, Girardi has only started two everyday players in all 10 games — Bryce Harper and Nick Castellanos — and neither has played in the field all 10 days.

Gone are the days when players like Ryan Howard, Chase Utley and Jimmy Rollins would take to the field every single day, for weeks at a time. Instead, Girardi has given everyone in his lineups either a day off, or a day at DH in just two short calendar weeks. Is it possible the team is having trouble getting into a groove and finding consistency because of the constantly changing batting order and revolving days off for guys who are used to playing upwards of 150 games a season?

Girardi confused many over the weekend, when he benched J.T. Realmuto the day after he reached base five times in a game against the Marlins. He explained the decision this way:

"You never want to take him out, but you can't kill him," manager Joe Girardi said.

The manager has a plan, which he explains included Realmuto playing four consecutive games before sitting Wednesday in Colorado before an off day Thursday. But perhaps this is a bit rigid for a sport that is more susceptible to streakiness than the others.

Girardi made another big decision with his lineup just eight games into the year, electing to boot Kyle Schwarber from the leadoff spot after showing early struggles, and instead making Realmuto the leadoff hitter for the games he starts. 

But it's more than relieving Schwarber of his leadoff duties. Girardi has a fully fleshed out plan that could wind up a wise decision down the line.

"It's something we've talked about for a little bit, trying to separate (lefty hitters) Schwarber and Harper by more than one guy so it makes it a little bit more difficult to bring, you know, if you have a top lefty to face them both," Girardi said this weekend. "We kind of wanted to see how things would work and that's what we've decided to do."

Still, through 10 games, five different hitters have hit in the five-hole and four in the two hole. A year ago, the number of hitters in each of those slots through 10 games for Girardi was just two. Jean Segura has hit in four different spots in the order in six starts this season — and Girardi mentioned he could lead off as well.

There is a very fine line between over-tinkering and being properly strategic. He has a roster full of professional hitters, and baseball is a sport based on repetition and sample size. The Phillies have not really been able to establish any structured roles yet this year — and that includes the bullpen which has seen eight different hurlers take the hill for the eighth inning and five different ones in the ninth.

Granted, the Phillies were trailing by a lot late in a lot of games so far this year, but giving players regular roles and letting them focus singularly is often a successful tactic.

The 2022 season is still quite young and the intricacies of this roster are certainly tricky and new. Girardi will surely find his groove, and hopefully his hitters will too. But it's certainly interesting to see how much he's played with things so early in this campaign.


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