How will Rob Thomson manage the versatile Phillies bullpen?
Among the popular Philadelphia Phillies offseason topics is how Rob Thomson will construct the lineup — especially given Trea Turner’s acquisition and Bryce Harper’s injury. However, perhaps a more important question going into next season is how the manager will use his bullpen arms.
The Phillies will have a few returning relievers in Seranthony Domínguez, José Alvarado, Andrew Bellatti, Connor Brogdon, and Nick Nelson. The club also acquired left-hander Matt Strahm and right-hander Craig Kimbrel this offseason. Assuming the Phillies carry a seven-man bullpen, they already have seven relievers with big-league experience. Dave Dombrowski adding another arm or two for depth would not be surprising, in case of injuries.
The Phillies also have some depth in the organization already in Cristopher Sánchez, Sam Coonrod, and Francisco Morales — who are already on the 40-man roster. There are also some interesting arms in the minors, such as Griff McGarry and Andrew Baker.
There will be some spring training competition for bullpen spots, so the final roster won’t be finalized until March. However, barring any injuries or acquisitions, Domínguez, Alvarado, Bellatti, Brogdon, Strahm, and Kimbrel will make the Opening Day roster. Thomson will most likely use Bellatti, Brogdon, and Strahm as middle-inning relievers. Each has a solid track record but has not been used in high-leverage situations before.
The eighth and ninth innings are more interesting to predict. Domínguez, Alvarado, and Kimbrel have all been previously used as closers and in high-leverage situations. Last season, Thomson used his bullpen arms based on matchups and instituted a “closer by committee.”
It would not be surprising to see Kimbrel start as the team’s closer, since he has the experience and an overall good track record. However, Kimbrel has struggled in his last few seasons and his strikeout rate has decreased. He has relied more on getting groundballs and changing his pitching style.
Should Kimbrel struggle, Thomson may opt for Domínguez or Alvarado to close or go back to pitching to matchups as he did in 2022. Both Domínguez and Alvarado had solid 2022 seasons and should be considered reliable pieces moving forward. Having three options to close games makes managing the bullpen easier.
Bullpens are always volatile, but Thomson has shown a knack for knowing his guys and how to use them. It will be interesting to see how the Phillies handle this important area as they look to replicate the successful 2022 season.