Knebel wanted the ball Tuesday night: ‘It's my game to lose'

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ATLANTA – Corey Knebel wanted the ball so badly in the ill-fated ninth inning Tuesday night that he considered picking up the bullpen phone, calling down to the dugout and telling Joe Girardi to put him in the game.

Girardi stuck with Nick Nelson and moments after one-man show Bryce Harper electrified the dugout with a two-run homer to give the Phillies a one-run lead, Nelson gave up a pair of runs and the Braves danced off the field with a 6-5 win.

The loss gnawed at Harper, who drove in four runs late in the game – “We’ve got to win a game like that,” he said afterward – and a day later, it still gnawed Knebel, the $10 million closer who had to watch the carnage from the bullpen because of Girardi’s policy of not using relievers three days in a row.

“I think we all want to be in those situations,” Knebel said Wednesday. “That game yesterday was awesome. We stole the momentum from them.

“That's his rule. That's it. No three days in a row for relievers this early in the season. We talked. That's it. We're on the same page.”

Knebel did not call the dugout to talk his way into the game Tuesday, but he and Girardi talked after the game and again on Wednesday.

“We both agreed that that's my game,” Knebel said. “(If) we're going to lose, it's my game to lose. That's it. Don't put that on Nellie. But I think we had a great conversation. Nelson's been dominating, so yeah. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't. That's it.”

In one of their chats, Girardi said he told Knebel, “Look, you threw a bunch of pitches on Sunday. You threw a bunch of pitches on Monday. I appreciate that you want the ball, but we’ve got a long year. Your velocity was down a mile or two the second day and I’m not going to hurt you because if you hurt your closer, those people are hard to replace.”

In addition to Knebel, Seranthony Dominguez and Jeurys Familia were on the no-pitch list Tuesday night. All have closing experience in the majors.

Dominguez, Girardi said, was dealing with arm fatigue, but it was nothing serious.

Knebel’s night off was simply a matter of Girardi following his personal rule against using a reliever three days in a row. He brought the policy with him from New York and said the front office has never questioned it.

Knebel acknowledged that he had encountered the policy with his previous two teams, the Brewers and Dodgers.

Girardi was passionate in defending his commitment to the policy.

“If I offer Corey Knebel the ball seven days in a row, he’d take the ball seven days in a row,” Girardi said. “But it’s what I do. There’s too many relievers that are getting hurt. Way too many.

“Go look at how many relievers are on the IL. Look how many guys had Tommy John last year or were hurt. We’ve been pretty lucky here, right? And you win over the long haul. You don’t win in 40 games. You win over 162 games and the way you win is by keeping people healthy because people aren’t replaceable. Certain people aren’t replaceable.

“What happens if Corey Knebel goes on the IL for 20 days?”

Girardi remains committed to his principles even in the last year of a contract, where anything less than a playoff berth for the high-priced team will likely cost him his job.

And as far as taking heat from outside sources – bring it.

“This is all part of being a manager,” Girardi said. “You’re going to be second-guessed all the time. I’m used to it. I’ve managed in some fairly large markets. I’m used to it. I’ve managed in some playoffs. I’m used to it. I was questioned about going to a three-man rotation in the World Series. I was questioned about it. It’s part of the job. It’s what everyone does, right?

“Talk radio wouldn’t have a voice if everyone wasn’t managing and coaching and second-guessing, but that’s what makes our sport great -- everyone has different ideas, right? I have my ideas, you have your ideas. It is what it is.

“Everything you do -- you get questioned about the lineup, you get questioned about positioning, you get questioned about the rain, you get questioned about everything.”

The only thing that stops the questioning is winning.

The Phillies let a big one get away Tuesday night.

“Yeah, it's just another tough loss,” Knebel said. “But at the end of the day, it's a loss. That's all it is. You've got to forget about it and be ready for today and tomorrow.”

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