Phillies have arms (and names) coming

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Phillies have arms (and names) coming

The Phillies have a growing number of pitching prospects and along with good arms they have some colorful first names.

It might not be long before you hear Dan Baker shriek, "And tonight's starting pitcher is JoJo Romero."

Or maybe it will be Ranger Suarez getting the start (and the win) with a save going to Seranthony Dominguez.

And, of course, you've already heard about Sixto Sanchez. Who hasn't? The power-armed, strike-throwing 19-year-old phenom is one of the game's hottest prospects and a target of every general manager who tries to play Let's Make a Deal with Matt Klentak.

The Phillies are hosting their annual prospect education seminar this week at Citizens Bank Park and Romero, Suarez and Dominguez are all in town for the event. All three could be right back in Eastern Pennsylvania in April. They will all report to spring training in February with a chance to win a spot on the Double A Reading roster. Franklyn Kilome, another top pitching prospect in town this week, figures to open the season back in Reading, as well.

The Phillies went through the 2017 season without using a left-handed starting pitcher for the first time since 1918 and don't project to open the new season with one — unless Klentak, who is actively looking to add a pitcher, brings in a lefty before then.

Not too far down the road, if all continues to go well in the development process, the Phillies will have some choices from the left side. Cole Irvin, another prospect in town this week, could be ready for the Triple A rotation in April. The University of Oregon product, who will turn 24 later this month, is a lefty. And behind him is the lefty duo of Romero and Suarez.

Romero, 21, is a native of Oxnard, California. He pitched at the University of Nevada as a freshman and moved on to Yavapai College (Curt Schilling and Ken Giles are products of that program) in Arizona for his sophomore season in 2016. He was drafted by the Phillies in the fourth round that year. In his first full season of pro ball in 2017, Romero posted a 2.16 ERA in 23 starts at Lakewood and Clearwater. He gave up 104 hits, struck out 128 and walked 36 in 129 innings.

"He had a great year developmentally," Phillies director of player development Joe Jordan said. "He really figured out what he had and how to use it."

Romero throws a sinker and a four-seam fastball up to 95 mph. He complements that with an off-speed repertoire highlighted by a good changeup. He was born Joseph Romero, but JoJo evolved into his baseball name over the years and he's sticking with it.

"I like it," he said with a smile in the Phillies' clubhouse Wednesday.

Suarez, a 22-year-old from Venezuela, posted numbers similar to Romero's in 2017. He also pitched at Lakewood and Clearwater and registered a 2.27 ERA in 22 starts. He gave up 95 hits and struck out 128 while walking just 35 in 122 2/3 innings.

On Wednesday, Suarez was asked about his goals for 2018.

"Grandes ligas," he said.

He smiled and explained himself to Diego Ettedgui, the Phillies' Spanish language translator.

"The goal of every baseball player is to make it to the big leagues," Suarez said.

The Phillies signed Suarez for $25,000 in 2012. He has two brothers, Rayner and Rosmer, and a sister, Rangerlin.

"We have a family tradition that every name starts with the letter R," he said.

Dominguez, a 23-year-old right-hander from the Dominican Republic, is often asked about his unique first name. He said it was something his parents heard on television.

On the diamond, Dominguez's arm stands out more than his name.

"Ninety-eight, 99," he said when asked how hard he throws.

The Phillies will begin converting him from starter to reliever this spring. He has future closer written all over him.

"He has a chance to really dominate in the late innings," Jordan said.

Aaron Nola another Zack Greinke? A quick call-up for Scott Kingery?

Aaron Nola another Zack Greinke? A quick call-up for Scott Kingery?


BRADENTON, Fla. — Gabe Kapler played most of what figures to be his opening day lineup on Friday and the Phillies responded with one of their best games of the Grapefruit League schedule in beating the Pittsburgh Pirates, 8-2.

The only regular not in the starting lineup was shortstop J.P. Crawford. Bench candidate Jesmuel Valentin played there (see story).

Opening day starter Aaron Nola pitched four shutout innings, gave up four hits, a walk and struck out five. He threw 64 pitches and 45 were strikes.

Maikel Franco belted two homers, both bombs to left. One was a two-run shot on a 3-0 fastball, the other a grand slam.

And, of course, it wouldn’t be a good showing by the Phils without another impressive performance from the man who has been the best player in camp, Scott Kingery. He came off the bench, played center field, right field and third base, and stroked a hard single to right.

It is doubtful that Kingery will be on the opening day roster, but it’s looking more and more like he could be up with the big club as soon as April 13. If Kingery stays in the minors until then, the Phillies will control his rights through 2024. If he makes the opening day roster, he could be eligible for free agency after 2023. Keeping Kingery down for a few weeks won’t sit well with some fans, but it makes good baseball sense, especially for a team that does not project as a slam-dunk contender.

Kapler raved about a play Kingery made at third.

“Wow, wow,” the manager said. “His ability to go to his left and make that strong throw. He showed off that incredible arm and that versatility.”

Kapler also liked Franco’s power. The third baseman, entering a make-or-break season with the Phillies, is hitting just .192 on the spring, but he leads the club with five homers. Franco has closed his stance by bringing his front foot closer to the plate. He is getting more comfortable with the stance, which the Phillies hope will prompt him to use the middle of the field and stop pulling off balls.

“He attacked that 3-0 pitch,” Kapler said. “That was pretty impressive.”

Nola said he was “ready to go” for the opener.

Kapler concurred and compared Nola to a former Cy Young winner.

“Perfect tune-up for opening day, got him right where we wanted him with pitches — and he got to that pitch count by throwing strikes, a lot of them, and really attacking with pitches," Kapler said of Nola.

“He’s starting to look to me a lot like — I saw Zack Greinke in the American League when he was with Kansas City — kind of a familiar look to the way that he uses the gas pedal and the brake effectively and fills up the strike zone with all his pitches. His calm, easy, collected demeanor is really reminiscent of some of the best pitchers in baseball.”

The Phillies play the Tigers in Lakeland on Saturday.

Questions Phillies face as spring training nears its end

Questions Phillies face as spring training nears its end

BRADENTON, Fla. — Less than a week before opening day, there are still a number of unanswered questions surrounding the Phillies.

About the only thing known for sure is that Aaron Nola will start Thursday in Atlanta. The right-hander made his final spring tune-up Friday afternoon against the Pirates.

Some of the questions that need to be answered before the Phillies pack up and leave Florida on Tuesday include:

• When will Jake Arrieta join the rotation? Will it be April 2, 3 or 4 in New York? Will it be during the team’s first homestand, possibly April 7? Arrieta threw 31 pitches in his first spring start Thursday. A bullpen session over the weekend and his next start, likely 50 or so pitches on Tuesday, will offer team officials a better idea on when he’ll be ready.

• Who else will be in the rotation? Nothing has been announced, but Vince Velasquez and Nick Pivetta appear to be locks with Nola and eventually Arrieta. Zach Eflin could be the fifth starter, if the Phils use one the first time through the rotation. He could also piggyback with Arrieta in New York if the Phils wanted to get Arrieta going that early. Ben Lively and Drew Hutchison remain candidates to make the club as the fifth starter, should the Phils use one during the first 10 days of the season.

• Who's in the bullpen? Hector Neris, Pat Neshek, Tommy Hunter, Luis Garcia and Adam Morgan are locks. That likely leaves three openings. One spot will likely go to a lefty, Hoby Milner or Zac Curtis. Right-handers Edubray Ramos and Victor Arano seem to be vying for one spot and the final one could go to Lively or Hutchison. They are both stretched out and could provide the bullpen length that injured Mark Leiter Jr. would have.

• How about bullpen roles? Manager Gabe Kapler is not one to speak in absolutes. He is loath to define roles in his bullpen or batting order. He’s keeping options open and could assign roles on a nightly basis based on matchups and research that the team’s growing analytics department digs up. Neris went 20 for 20 in save chances while giving up just three runs in 19⅔ innings after June 27 last season. Logic would dictate that he'd be the closer. But will he be every night? Will Kapler use him in a matchup situation in the seventh inning some night? Time will tell. Same for batting order construction.

• Who will be on the bench? Infielder/outfielder Pedro Florimon has played well and looks like a lock. That leaves one or two openings, depending on how many pitchers the Phils open with. Veterans Ryan Flaherty and Adam Rosales were both granted their release. That leaves Jesmuel Valentin and Roman Quinn, both 40-man roster guys, as the two lead candidates. There might be room for both, depending on how many pitchers the Phils open with. It also would not be shocking to see the team send Quinn to Triple A to get more playing time. The Phils appear to be leaning toward carrying Andrew Knapp as their second catcher over Cameron Rupp, who has a minor-league option remaining.