Playing nine of the first 14 games against the lowly Marlins, Reds and Rays has been helpful for Gabe Kapler and the Phillies, but it's still impressive that the Phils have won three consecutive series with so many pitchers on the disabled list.
One-third of the Phillies' projected opening-day pitching staff — relievers Pat Neshek and Tommy Hunter, starter Jerad Eickhoff and swingman Mark Leiter Jr. — began the season on the DL.
The highest-priced arm of that group, Hunter, is the closest to returning. Hunter (hamstring) threw 15 pitches and got four outs in a controlled situation of an extended spring training game Saturday in Clearwater. He believes he is ready to go.
"Me personally, yes, but it's not my decision," Hunter said when asked if he's ready to return. He said he would defer to team officials and the Phils' medical staff.
The Phillies are expected to err on the side of caution and give Hunter one more tune-up before activating him next week. There could be more on the team's plans for Hunter later Sunday.
Eickhoff (lat) is optimistic but is farther away. He threw lightly off a bullpen mound Saturday and said he feels much better. He needs a full build-up, though, with the progression including bullpen sessions, live batting practice and then game action in the minors — essentially a spring training. Mid-to-late May seems realistic for Eickhoff.
If the Phils' rotation continues to pitch well, it will be interesting to see how and where they slot Eickhoff in once he has fully rehabbed. Healthwise, these situations tend to work themselves out.
Since losing 15-2 to the Braves in their third game of the season, the Phillies' starting rotation has the lowest ERA in the National League at 2.69. They also have the lowest home run rate in the majors over that span (0.4 per nine innings) and the NL's second-lowest WHIP (1.08).
New Phillies manager Gabe Kapler unveiled the first three members of his coaching staff Friday.
Kapler stayed within the organization for a couple of important hires, retaining Rick Kranitz and naming Dusty Wathan third-base coach.
Kranitz's role is yet to be determined.
Kapler also hired John Mallee as hitting coach. Mallee (pronounced May-lee) most recently spent three seasons as the Cubs' hitting coach. Prior to that, he served as the hitting coach for the Astros (2013-14) and Marlins (2010-11). Mallee was actually drafted by the Phillies back in 1991.
Kranitz, 59, has previously been major-league pitching coach for the Marlins, Orioles and Brewers. He joined the Phillies' staff as bullpen coach before the 2016 season and served as the club's assistant pitching coach under Bob McClure last season.
It's no surprise that the Phillies kept Kranitz. His experience — 10 seasons as a big-league pitching coach — and familiarity with the organization's pitchers will be valuable to Kapler, a first-year manager who most recently served as the director of player development for the Dodgers.
Wathan's hiring is also not a surprise. The 44-year-old former catcher has managed in the Phillies' minor-league system for the past 10 seasons, has had an important hand in the development of many of the players projected to help the Phillies in coming seasons, and was a finalist for the job that went to Kapler. Had Wathan not been named to the big-league staff, he would have returned to manage the Triple A Lehigh Valley club in 2018. Wathan was the Eastern League manager of the year while leading the Double A Reading club in 2015 and 2016.
"Dusty was incredibly impressive in this process," general manager Matt Klentak said last week at the news conference to announce Kapler's hiring. "Obviously, the fact that he was a finalist would suggest that we thought a lot of him. ... We are really proud of everything he accomplished and the way he conducted himself in the interview process. We're really glad he's with the Phillies."
While initially disappointed to not get the manager's job, Wathan last week said he was eager to continue his work with the organization.
"I feel like this organization is on the cusp of big things," he said. "I feel like I've been a part of that and I'm looking forward to continuing to be a part of it."
Wathan's departure from the Triple A manager's post means the Phillies have an opening at that level.
Kapler and Klentak still have several more hires to make for the staff. At the news conference to announce his hiring last week, Kapler said he wanted to build a diverse coaching staff.
"I don't want seven people in the dugout who think just like me," he said. "I value somebody with a lot of veteran experience. I have a tremendous amount of value for someone who thinks more progressively. So I'd say diversity of thought, diversity of experience, that's a strong way to build a major-league coaching staff."
While Pete Mackanin and Larry Bowa are staying in the Phillies' organization, Matt Stairs is not.
Stairs will be hired as the San Diego Padres' hitting coach, a source tells NBC Sports Philadelphia.
Stairs was the Phillies' hitting coach last season after spending time in their broadcast booth the previous three years. He'll now work with a Padres offense that scored just 604 runs in 2017 — 35 fewer than any team in the majors and 86 fewer than the Phillies.
When Mackanin was reassigned to the Phillies' front office, the organization told the members of his coaching staff that they were free to seek other opportunities. Both Mackanin and former bench coach Larry Bowa will serve as special advisors to GM Matt Klentak.
The Phillies have one of three managerial vacancies across baseball. The Yankees and Nationals are also searching for managers after surprisingly firing Joe Girardi and Dusty Baker.
According to NBC Sports Philadelphia's Jim Salisbury, the Phils are down to two finalists and a long shot in their manager search.