Phillies' never-ending-search for pitching turns to reclamation project Henderson Alvarez

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Phillies' never-ending-search for pitching turns to reclamation project Henderson Alvarez

The Phillies’ never-ending search for pitching leads to a possible reclamation project Sunday, a move that will set a team record and sets up a six-man rotation to end the season. 

Former NL All-Star Henderson Alvarez, who hasn’t appeared in a big league game in two years, will become the Phillies' 31st player to pitch when the right-hander starts the final game of the series against Oakland. It will break the team record for most hurlers in a season set in 2015. 

“We’ll get a look at him and see what he looks like,” manager Pete Mackanin said Saturday. “We could use some starters.”

With Aaron Nola the only likely lock for the 2018 rotation, the Phils will go with an extra starter to close the season. Alvarez will join Nick Pivetta, Nola, Jake Thompson, Mark Leiter Jr. and Ben Lively. 

“They’re younger pitchers and we’re just giving them that little extra day’s rest,” Mackanin said. “Plus, get a look, an audition, for Alvarez.”

Alvarez, a Venezuelan, was once one of the top prospects in Toronto. With a zippy fastball, solid sinker and changeup, he jumped directly from Double A to the majors in 2011 before being traded to Miami. 

He first went on the disabled list with shoulder inflammation in 2012, and his 2013 season started late because of lingering issues. 

But he closed 2013 with a no-hitter against Detroit on the final day of the season, frustrating the Tigers into poor contact while striking out only four. Alvarez was an All-Star in 2014 and led the majors with three complete games in late July before he was shelved with more shoulder pain. 

After being named the Marlins’ opening-day starter in 2015, he went 0-4 with a 6.45 ERA in four starts before July shoulder surgery. 

Alvarez signed with Oakland before last season, but his comeback was cut short by two more shoulder surgeries. 

“Twice he was so close to pitching for us,” A’s manager Bob Melvin said. “He was really on his last rehab game when he got hurt again before he was going to start for us.”

Alvarez, who is only 27, couldn't get a job and he was pitching for the Long Island Ducks in the independent Atlantic League when the Phillies signed him last month. 

“I think the key is to just see how the ball is coming out of his hand if he’s healthy,” Mackanin said. “I know at one point — I’ve seen him before — he was quite good."

After three starts and a 2.84 ERA at Triple A Lehigh Valley, Alvarez is finally set to return to the majors. 

“I’ll be on the other side of it and certainly we want to win, but it puts a smile on your face to know how hard he’s worked to get back,” Melvin said. “After the second injury, you have a hard time thinking he’ll get back to the big leagues. I’m sure it’s hard work and perseverance that got him here, so hats off to him.”

Phillies owner John Middleton would 'love' to sign an upgrade

Phillies owner John Middleton would 'love' to sign an upgrade

CLEARWATER, Fla. — Even though the Grapefruit League schedule starts on Friday and opening day is less than six weeks away, the Phillies are still hungry to improve their pitching.

In an interview with John Clark of NBC Sports Philadelphia on Tuesday, Phillies owner John Middleton said the team was “very” active in pursuing potential upgrades. Middleton went on to say that he would “love” to do something on that front.

Middleton made the comments as a number of attractive free-agent pitchers, including Jake Arrieta, Alex Cobb and Lance Lynn, remain unsigned.

“We’re having talks every single day with different people,” Middleton said. 

Middleton gets updates on those talks regularly from general manager Matt Klentak.

“Matt kind of now knows me, when we walk in the office and see each other for the first time he basically says [since] the last time I talked to you, John, at 5 o’clock yesterday afternoon nothing happened or this has happened,” Middleton said with a laugh. “Then I’ll see him at lunch time and still nothing has happened or this has happened. We have a lot of conversations about that.”

Middleton is eager to win, but he remains committed to seeing the rebuild through. Klentak has often said he won’t make a shortsighted move that would jeopardize the future. He has said his goal is to play in October for a decade, not just one year. That’s Middleton’s goal, too.

If the Phillies were to make an upgrade on the pitching side in the coming days or weeks, it would have to be on their terms. They have been in continuous contact with Arrieta’s representatives all winter, but won’t go to five or more years to sign the right-hander who turns 32 in March. If Arrieta were willing to sign a deal in the two- to four-year range, the Phillies would definitely have interest (more on all that here).

Stay tuned on that one. Camps are open. Free agents Eric Hosmer and J.D. Martinez have signed in recent days. Like Arrieta, they are represented by Scott Boras. The pitching logjam looks ready to break and could have an impact in Philadelphia, where the Phillies are methodically striving to become playoff relevant again.

“We wouldn’t be out talking to people the way we are if we didn’t think that we could get that little extra push,” Middleton said. “I think we all feel this way. [It] just has to be done in an intelligent, thoughtful and reasonable way.

“But, yeah, I’d love to do something."

Phillies willing to sign Jake Arrieta if ...

Phillies willing to sign Jake Arrieta if ...

CLEARWATER, Fla. — Longstanding rumors linking the Phillies to free-agent pitcher Jake Arrieta continue to percolate. On Tuesday morning, baseball reporter Jon Heyman tweeted that the Phillies and Arrieta were engaged in "dialogue."

Here’s what we know: At the winter meetings in December, Phillies officials met with Arrieta’s agent, Scott Boras, to go over a number of Boras’ clients. At the time, Arrieta was looking for a deal in the neighborhood of seven years and $180 million to $200 million. Those parameters were not a fit for the Phillies, who have placed a premium on short-term contracts while they move their rebuild forward.

The Phillies have remained engaged with the Arrieta camp throughout the winter and they have made it clear that if the pitcher’s price tag comes down, they would have interest in a union. It is believed the Phillies would be willing to sign Arrieta, who turns 32 in March, to a two- or three-year contract, at a significant salary and possibly with some creative structure such as an out after one year.

Earlier this winter, the Phillies had reservations about meeting free agent Carlos Santana’s original contract demands of upwards of five years. When Santana’s demands were lowered to three years, the Phillies pounced and signed him for $60 million. Such a lowering of demands could make Arrieta a Phillie. Of course, there are other teams interested. Arrieta has long been linked to the Cardinals and Nationals.

Arrieta would come with some risk. All pitchers of his age and odometer reading do. He won the National League Cy Young Award in 2015 while going 22-6 with a 1.77 ERA for the Chicago Cubs. He went 18-8 with a 3.10 ERA the following season and slipped to 14-10 with a 3.53 ERA in 2017. That trend downward has coincided with a slight drop in velocity and that has given teams pause at signing Arrieta to a long-term deal. It would seem that even the Cubs had reservations about Arrieta as they let him walk and signed free agent Yu Darvish.

In the last few days, a couple of big-name Boras clients have signed. Eric Hosmer went to the Padres and J.D. Martinez to the Red Sox. Arrieta might be next. If he would come at the Phillies’ price, he might end up being a Phillie.

Signing Arrieta would cost the Phillies a second- or third-round draft pick in June.