Phillies: Picking 5th starter crucial at ‘spring training 2’
By Matt Rappa
The Phillies have a crucial decision to make at ‘spring training 2’
We know Bryce Harper will be in right field for most of this upcoming 60-game Philadelphia Phillies season. Likewise, Rhys Hoskins will be a staple a first base, J.T. Realmuto as catcher, you know it.
But, what about the fifth starter in the rotation, following right-handers Aaron Nola, Zack Wheeler, Jake Arrieta and Zach Eflin?
With just six off-days to be scheduled, between Opening Day on July 24 and the season finale on September 27, it will be a sprint rather than the usual 162-game marathon. All five starters will be relied on. But, this is a current crucial unknown that now is more important than ever to find the correct answer.
The crazy thing is, manager Joe Girardi might just have to rely on his colleagues to help him decide.
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The new Phillies skipper joined MLB Network on Wednesday and said, prior to the shutdown in March, he was just starting to get a “decent feel” of the roster: “We were just getting to the competition stage where you were going to learn a lot about our players. But now, we start all over again.”
Girardi says he will to “really pay attention” in trying to make final roster determinations, but acknowledged that he will particularly have to rely on video and his coaching staff this time around.
MLB.com’s Todd Zolecki also recently joined the network and raised the same point; given there will likely not be spring training games, how would the Phillies determine who the fifth starter will be?
Phillies Spring Training ‘1.0’ Starting Pitching Stats
Likely Nos. 1 through 4 starters
- Aaron Nola: 1-0, 4.50 ERA, 3 G, 3 GS, 8 IP, 13 H, 4 R, 4 ER, 0 HR, 1 BB, 9 SO
- Zack Wheeler: 1-0, 5.40 ERA, 3 G, 3 GS, 8 1/3 IP, 8 H, 5 R, 5 ER, 2 HR, 3 BB, 9 SO
- Jake Arrieta: 2-1, 4.82 ERA, 3 G, 3 GS, 9 1/3 IP, 6 H, 5 R, 5 ER, 2 HR, 6 BB, 4 SO
- Zach Eflin: 0-0, 7.36 ERA, 2 G, 2 GS, 3 2/3 IP, 4 H, 3 R, 3 ER, 0 HR, 4 BB, 1 SO
Candidates for No. 5 starter
- Nick Pivetta: 0-1, 8.22 ERA, 3 G, 3 GS, 7 2/3 IP, 10 H, 7 R, 7 ER, 0 HR, 4 BB, 10 SO
- Vince Velasquez: 0-1, 4.70 ERA, 3 G, 2 GS, 7 2/3 IP, 7 H, 4 R, 4 ER 2 HR, 5 BB, 6 SO
- Ranger Suarez: 1-1, 2.25 ERA, 3 G, 3 GS, 8 IP, 10 H, 3 R, 2 ER, 0 HR, 1 BB, 8 SO
Prior to the shutdown, surprisingly, the race for the Phillies’ fifth starting pitcher appeared to feature southpaw Ranger Suarez in the lead. Among all seven starting pitchers used, excluding non-roster invitee Ramon Rosso who made one spot start and three relief outings, Suarez was putting up the best numbers. His ERA was south of 2.50, while he struck out eight batters across as many frames while walking just one.
Pivetta and Eflin, meanwhile, posted ERAs north of 7, while Velasquez’s 4.70 ERA was in the same ballpark as Nola’s (4.50), Wheeler’s (5.40), and Arrieta’s (4.82).
A darkhorse option would be top pitching prospect Spencer Howard. But, the question looms as to whether Phillies would want to promote him to the big-league level before he appeared at the Triple-A level. The thing is, due to the pandemic, there likely will be no minor-league season. If the Phillies want to keep their best tools at their disposal, it is safe to say they would at least have Howard on their taxi squad. Girardi discussed on MLB Network the need to have backup starters ready every day in case injury or illness arises. Howard appeared in one relief appearance this past spring as a non-roster invitee, allowing no runs and two hits while striking out one of his five batters faced.
Zolecki says, meanwhile, that at the time spring training camp was broken up, the losers of the battle among Velasquez, Pivetta and Suarez would likely have started the then-scheduled March 26 Opening Day as part of the Phillies’ bullpen.
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“How do the Phillies make that decision [now]?” he asks. “Do they just go on pure stuff, [or] how the guy is maybe throwing in some intrasquad games?”
For Zolecki, he says this battle is key, especially since early on in the 60-game season pitchers will not be able to last deep into games.
“You need these guys to pitch well,” the Phillies’ MLB.com baseball scribe says, before going on to predict that either Velasquez or Pivetta would be chosen if he “had to put money on it.”
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If the Phillies indeed rely on precedence, Suarez actually would be in the lead heading into spring traing 2.0 based off his stats from the first go-around. But, it appears Girardi and his coaching staff, including new pitching coach Bryan Price, will have to rely on other means when making this crucial decision of who the team’s fifth starting pitcher will be.
After all, whomever is chosen, they would likely start in at least 10 to 12 games. With the race expected to be closer than ever before, there is likewise less margin for error than ever before.
Deciding correctly could make all the difference to getting the Phillies back to the postseason for the first time since 2011.