Their starting rotation, anchored by Cy Young candidate Zack Wheeler, has been a question mark all season. Their lack of pitching depth has forced manager Joe Girardi into “bullpen games” every fifth game, a strategy expected to continue for the remainder of the 2021 season. Ranger Suárez, who had not started a game since 2018, moved back to the rotation in August.
The fact that Girardi’s options are thin is somewhat of a surprise considering the starting rotation was projected to be a strength of the 2021 Phillies.
The Phillies starting rotation was lining up well.
The future of the Phillies starting pitching looked promising by the end of the 2020 season. Right-handers Aaron Nola and Zack Wheeler were one major strength at the top of the rotation for an overall disappointing team.
Zach Eflin looked like a polished product and a solid fourth option in a deep rotation. Although highly-regarded prospect Spencer Howard never found a rhythm during the fluky 60-game season, confidence in his future remained high. Even the much-maligned Vince Velasquez didn’t look like a terrible option as a fifth starter.
Less than a year later, those projections haven’t held up.
While Wheeler has exceeded expectations in 2021 and established himself as the staff ace, Nola has been frustratingly inconsistent and unreliable. Despite multiple dominant starts, his ERA has risen toward the range of the worst of his career, set in his rookie season at age 22.
The organization laid out a head-scratching plan for Howard during the offseason. Their strategy to limit his innings and keep him out of the starting rotation temporarily was never effective. A multitude of obstacles came about, and the Phillies ultimately traded him to the Texas Rangers on July 30.
Eflin had a strong Spring Training and looked poised for a breakout season. He pitched well during the first half, but the injury and a short stint on the COVID IL have kept him out since July 16, and now his season is over.
Velasquez has battled injuries and performed poorly when healthy. It is unlikely he has any future with the Phillies.