Phillies

Countdown to Clearwater: Rotation has veterans, developing talent, depth

Countdown to Clearwater: Rotation has veterans, developing talent, depth

The Phillies begin spring training in Clearwater, Florida, on Feb. 14. Leading up to the first workout, we will take a daily look at the important issues and storylines of camp.

Day 5: The rotation

Starting pitching is probably the most tangible area of progress in the Phillies’ rebuild.
 
Don’t misunderstand. When it comes to a starting rotation, these Phillies aren’t the Mets or Nationals. And they’re certainly not the 2011 Phillies.
 
But through a series of trades — some by current general manager Matt Klentak, others by predecessor Ruben Amaro Jr. — and the maturation of a handful of prospects, the Phillies have built some solid starting pitching depth in recent years.
 
The depth will be on display next Tuesday when mitts start popping and pitchers and catchers hold their first official workout in Clearwater.
 
The Phillies have 15 starting pitchers on their 40-man roster and 10 of them have come to the organization in trades since the rebuild started after the 2014 season. Eight of 15 starters on the 40-man roster made at least five starts with the big club last year. Some of these pitchers could eventually end up making a conversion to the bullpen, maybe as soon as this season. In fact, manager Pete Mackanin has already hinted that lefty Adam Morgan, who made 21 starts last season, could get a look as a reliever this spring. But as camp begins, all 15 are starters and the club will adjust from there.
 
On paper, the Phillies’ season-opening five-man rotation looks to be set. Jeremy Hellickson, Clay Buchholz, Jerad Eickhoff and Vince Velasquez are all penciled into spots and all Aaron Nola needs to do to fill out the rotation is prove his health.
 
But over and over in this game, history has taught us that a team can never have enough starting pitching. The 1997 Phillies remain an example of that. During the final week of camp, the team sent Calvin Maduro to Triple A. A few days later, the club put five pitchers on the disabled list and Maduro was brought back from minor-league camp not just to pitch in the rotation but to hold down the No. 2 starter's job behind opening day starter Curt Schilling.
 
So guys like Morgan, Zach Eflin, Alec Asher and Jake Thompson will all be major factors in camp, though Thompson might be a little behind the others in early workouts because of what is said to be some mild soreness in his right wrist. Eflin is coming back from a pair of surgeries to repair tendinitis in both knees. The right-hander turns 23 in April and could be set to break out now that he’ll be pitching on healthy knees for the first time in his career.
 
The quartet of Morgan, Eflin, Asher and Thompson made 47 starts in the big leagues last season and will almost surely get time in the Philadelphia again this season. 
 
“With Hellickson, Buchholz, Eickhoff, Nola and Velasquez, the rotation is pretty solid when you think about it,” Mackanin said. “And with the inventory we have behind those guys, it’s not like you’ll be bringing up guys and crossing your fingers. They have some experience. And all this creates good competition.”
 
Other young starters who will get a look in big-league camp include Ben Lively, an 18-game winner in the minors last season, Ricardo Pinto, Nick Pivetta, Mark Appel, Drew Anderson and Elniery Garcia. All project to open at Double A or Triple A.
 
The projected big-league rotation is a blend of experience and youth. Hellickson, who turns 30 in April, returns to the club after recording a 3.71 ERA in 32 starts last season. Buchholz, 32, was acquired from Boston in a salary dump. He pitched his way in and out of the Red Sox rotation last season and is looking for a rebound season to carry him into free agency. The Phillies hope both veterans pitch well and become July trade chips, bringing back young talent and opening spots for younger pitchers to rise from Triple A.
 
Eickhoff, 26, could be poised for a breakout season in 2017. He emerged as a mid-rotation rock last season, delivering 20 quality starts and becoming just the fourth Phillie in the last 20 years to make 33 starts and record a 3.65 ERA or better, joining Cole Hamels, Roy Halladay and Curt Schilling.

Velasquez needs to improve his economy of pitches to stay in games longer, but there’s no doubting the power stuff that helped him strike out 10.4 batters per nine innings last season.

Mackanin’s decision on an opening day starter will be an interesting spring storyline. He could give the nod to Hellickson for a second year in a row or go with Eickhoff, who led the staff in starts (33), innings (197⅓) and ERA (3.65) last season.

If Hellickson and Buchholz pitch well in their walk years, if Nola is healthy and Eickhoff and Velasquez continue to improve, the Phillies stand a good chance to stay in games for six innings most nights. This isn’t the Mets’ or Nationals’ rotation and it surely isn’t the 2011 Phillies, but, with a sprinkle of veterans, some developing talent and more percolating in Triple A, it ain’t bad.

Next: Day 6 – A look at how the bullpen shapes up

It turns out Jeopardy host Alex Trebek isn't the biggest fan of the Phanatic

It turns out Jeopardy host Alex Trebek isn't the biggest fan of the Phanatic

Jeopardy has been home to some great moments regarding Philadelphia sports in the past.

 I wish this was another one of these moments ... but it's not.

 It turns out, the show's host host Alex Trebek isn't a big fan of the Phillie Phanatic ... I know, I'm hurt too.


 The Phillies are in disbelief, we all are.
 
 Of course, fans had quite the reaction to the video that surfaced on social media. After all, the Phanatic is the best mascot in all of sports (totally unbiased, of course).




 

I don't even want to know what he thinks about Gritty.

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Bryce Harper shares thoughts on Nationals playing in World Series without him

Bryce Harper shares thoughts on Nationals playing in World Series without him

Right around the time the Washington Nationals were clinching their World Series berth this week, a guy who left that team to come play in Philadelphia posted a cute photo to his Instagram story with his baby son. It included the caption, "cuddle time is the best time."

I made light of the juxtaposition of that photo with what Nationals players were currently doing in a tongue-in-cheek tweet, but it's hard not to think about Bryce Harper during this Nationals run.

We know exactly how Nationals fans down in DC feel about their former favorite slugger who departed DC for big time bucks. They won't stop telling us.

But what was Harper feeling? Thanks to a one-on-one interview Harper did with Jayson Stark of the Athletic, we now have a glimpse into Harper's mind during this unique time.

Stark says Harper was effusive in his praise of the city of Philadelphia during their chat. And the majority of Harper's answers are very savvy in a public relations sense. Harper is good at saying what you think he's supposed to say. But it doesn't come off as disingenuous.

Stark asked Harper if he was feeling any jealousy watching his old pals spray champagne in the locker room and his answer comes off as pretty honest. From the Athletic ($):

“No,” he said again, without a millisecond’s hesitation, “because like I said, I made my decision, and that was my decision. And it was the final decision that I made. You know, jealousy isn’t good. For me, it’s about having the gratitude to go out and do what I do each day and not having an attitude towards anybody else.

“I think it’s about being able to be the person that I am,” he went on, “and not saying to myself, `Oh my gosh, I can’t believe I’m not a National.’ Or, `Oh my gosh, those guys are doing what they’re doing. I can’t believe it. I’m so jealous.’ No. I’m so happy for them. You know how hard it is to get into the postseason and win games. For them to be able to put it together this year the way they have, it’s an amazing thing.”

There's plenty more to the piece worth diving into. Stark also spoke with former National/Phillie Jayson Werth, who knows a thing or two about both cities/clubs and also what it's like to play alongside Harper.

The Nationals' opponent in the World Series is yet to be set, but whether it's the Nationals, New York Yankees or Houston Astros who are spraying champagne at the end of it, you won't see Harper doing that. Unless he and his little baby pop up in his Instagram stories getting wacky.

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