Phillies: Jake Arrieta, Spencer Howard key for 2020 rotation

Jake Arrieta #49 of the Philadelphia Phillies (Photo by Mark Brown/Getty Images)
Jake Arrieta #49 of the Philadelphia Phillies (Photo by Mark Brown/Getty Images) /

For the Phillies succeed in 2020, they will need Jake Arrieta and Spencer Howard

One week from Wednesday, the Philadelphia Phillies will report to “summer” training in South Philadelphia. And, one month from Wednesday, the 2020 season will officially get underway.

And, unlike the usual 162-game marathon, this year’s will be a 60-game sprint across just 66 calendar days. Also as part of the unique season, there will be for the first time a universal designated hitter, and a new rule for extra-inning games, among others.

But, some things will remain the same, such as the number of teams that will qualify for the postseason — 10.

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Given there are so few off days, the Phillies will need to rely on every player on their active roster more than ever before. That especially includes the starting rotation.

While Aaron Nola and Zack Wheeler are just about locks to put up No. 1 and No. 2 starter-caliber numbers — across the 10 or so starts each will receive — the same cannot be said further down the list.

Jake Arrieta likely comes in at No. 3 — on the final year of his three-season pact. The final two spots? It is a toss-up between Zach Eflin, Nick Pivetta, Vince Velasquez, Ranger Suarez, and — if the Phillies choose — top pitching prospect Spencer Howard.

There are different reasons as to why the Phillies should slot Arrieta and Howard at the Nos. 3 and 4 spots in the rotation, respectively.

Arrieta is on a contract year and has not expressed a desire to retire from the game; he will enter the season healthy and will need to impress to offset his disappointing 2018 and 2019 seasons in red pinstripes. Doing so would allow him to secure another major-league contract for 2021 — whether that be in Philadelphia or elsewhere.

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At his best, Arrieta was among the best pitchers in the game. He won’t be able to return to his 22-6, 1.77 ERA performance with the Chicago Cubs in 2015, but, there is still a chance he can string a few consecutive quality starts together.

For Howard, the Phillies need to “roll the dice” and assemble the best roster possible. Sure, allowing him to debut this summer would start his arbitration years “clock.” But, the Phillies also had a concern on Howard’s innings limit.

At this point, there are two options. Let Howard not pitch at all in a likely canceled minor-league season —potentially causing irreversible damage to his development — or let him learn on the fly while being placed in the rotation behind Nola, Wheeler, and Arrieta. Earlier this spring training Howard said he is ”just trying to soak it all up” as it relates to learning from Nola.

For the Phillies, it seems like they have no choice but to choose the latter option. Choosing the former would not only cause the aforementioned damage, but it would also mean more innings are given to either combination of Eflin, Pivetta, Velasquez, and/or Suarez.

The same can be said for the Phillies starting top hitting prospect Alec Bohm over others in the lineup; and, they suddenly have plenty of at-bats to dish out with the universal designated hitter.

The Phillies’ first season under Joe Girardi will be interesting, to say the least. They have nothing to lose and should do whatever it takes to return to the postseason for the first time since 2011.