Phillies: Questions that need to be answered in spring training

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PHILADELPHIA, PA – APRIL 10: Pitcher Nick Pivetta #43 of the Philadelphia Phillies reacts in the dugout after getting pulled from the game in the fourth inning against the Washington Nationals at Citizens Bank Park on April 10, 2019 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Drew Hallowell/Getty Images)

What’re the biggest questions going into Phillies spring training?

The Phillies enter into the 2020 season with a large turnover from 2019. With plenty of questions surrounding the franchise, we take a look at a few of the most concerning issues going into the 2020 spring training.

Who will be in the back half of the rotation?

Zach Eflin. Vinny Velasquez. Nick Pivetta. A breakout rookie?

The back-end of the rotation will likely be as fluid as it was in 2019. Eight different pitchers started at least 10 games for the Phillies last year, and three (Drew Smyly, Jason Vargas, Jerad Eickhoff) of them are no longer with the team.

The main concern for Zach Eflin, the “favorite” to land the fourth spot,  is health. After a promising start to 2019, allowing three or fewer runs in nine of his first eleven starts, Eflin landed on the Injured List for the sixth time since the Phillies acquired him in 2014.

Over his next 17 starts, Eflin gave up five or more runs five times, only pitching more than seven innings twice after throwing two complete games prior to the injury. Eflin has the stuff to remain a part of the rotation, but will he be available for the team to depend on all season? Also, his July and August numbers need to drastically improve, as they take a major hit in the dog days of the season.

While Vinny Velo’s numbers didn’t improve in 2019, there was a noticeable change in the way he carried himself on the mound. Whatever he was asked to do, he stepped up and pitched well for most of the year, especially in high leverage situations. However, what has always been the problem with Velasquez is how much his numbers balloon as the game goes into the later stages.

As a starter on the third time through the lineup, his batting average and OPS double, with a home run rate of 8.9 AB/HR as opposed to 22.3 AB/HR in the first two times through. Will we see Velasquez as the fifth starter with a short leash, or will he be pushed to the bullpen?

Nick Pivetta has a lot to make up for in 2020. Pivetta was poised to breakout in 2019, according to many MLB insiders and analytics. Yet, he only started 13 games after two seasons of 25+ starts, and was demoted to the bullpen two games after the All Star break. This year is the “put up or shut up” year for Pivetta, with the organization poised to move on to the youth if he continues to disappoint.

Will Pivetta’s new approach translate into better performance, or will he succumb to the pressure and relinquish the role he was in the driver’s seat of in 2019?

Meanwhile, young talents Spencer Howard, Adonis Medina, and Enyel De Los Santos are clawing at the door to get a chance at the big leagues. Expect Howard to reach the big leagues by the summer and for De Los Santos to potentially make an impact out of the bullpen if he can’t land a starting job.

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