Aaron Nola not in Phillies camp; will Zack Wheeler start opener?

Aaron Nola not in Phillies camp; will Zack Wheeler start opener?

It has been widely assumed that Aaron Nola will make his third straight opening day start when the Phillies begin their shortened 2020 season later this month.

But now you have to wonder if things might be shaping up for Zack Wheeler to make that start.

Nola has not participated in either of the Phillies' first two workouts since training camp opened — re-opened might be a better way to put it — on Friday.

"He is not here yet," manager Joe Girardi said Saturday. "We're trying to work our way through that."

Nola is said to be working out, throwing, locally. It's unclear why he has not worked out with the club, though many things are unclear in the age of COVID-19. Girardi is prohibited from discussing anything related specifically to COVID-19.

Center fielder Adam Haseley has also missed the first two workouts. He is also said to be working out locally, away from the team.

Girardi did say Haseley's absence was "due to a medical condition. We're trying to work through it and get him here."

Ditto for non-roster catcher Christian Bethancourt, who, despite being absent from the 60-man player pool, is still part of the organization, according to Girardi.

Already, the Phillies are without pitchers Ranger Suarez, Tommy Hunter and Hector Neris and second baseman Scott Kingery. All are on a special COVID-19 injured list.

If you're keeping score at home, the Phillies have yet to see their potential opening day starting pitcher, their second baseman and their center fielder. That's not exactly good for the strength-up-the-middle philosophy. At least shortstop Didi Gregorius worked out for the first time Saturday. Catcher J.T. Realmuto is in camp and working out, as well.

Given that Nola has been throwing, it's still possible he could make the opening day start in three weeks. But if he's delayed much longer getting into camp, Wheeler could jump in. The right-hander threw to hitters on Saturday and his next outing could come in an intrasquad game, according to Girardi. That could put him considerably ahead of Nola.

"I thought he looked pretty good," Girardi said of Wheeler's work on Saturday. "I think in a lot of ways, pitchers might be ahead of where they would be in a normal spring training when it comes to the volume, but what they're missing is having a hitter in there and competing. 

"That's what our concern is about, being sharp and being able to get out of jams and those sorts of things. But I thought he looked pretty good today. His next outing, I'm not sure what it'll be, if it'll be another bullpen, a simulated game, or even an intrasquad but he should be able to go further as long as he wakes up and feels good."

It's not a given that Wheeler would be the opening day starter if Nola doesn't get enough time to prepare with the team. Wheeler's wife is due to give birth around the time of the July 23 or 24 opener. He will leave the team for a few days to be with his wife. But if the birth doesn't happen until a day or two after opening day, Wheeler could make that start then slip away to be with his family and possibly not even miss a start.

More will be known in the coming days. But Nola's status is certainly something to keep an eye on.

Meanwhile, another player, former American League Cy Young winner David Price of the Dodgers, opted out of his season on Saturday because of concerns about COVID-19.

Girardi is still confident the season will get off the ground.

Time will tell.

"I think there's a lot of concern and I think that's why we continue to educate as much as we can," he said. "We continue to test every other day, there's temperature checks a number of times during the day. 

"It's players being socially responsible to themselves, to the people around them, and to their teammates. If you have a symptom, don't just assume 'Ah, I have a headache today. It's normal,' or 'I'm sneezing more than normal today. It's my allergies.' You have to be completely honest in all of these questionnaires that we fill out or you jeopardize everyone in the room. It is a concern, yes."

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Phillies’ season resumes tonight with major challenge against Gerrit Cole at Yankee Stadium

Phillies’ season resumes tonight with major challenge against Gerrit Cole at Yankee Stadium

The only pitcher last offseason who joined a new team on a contract richer than Zack Wheeler’s was Gerrit Cole, the ace the Phillies face tonight at Yankee Stadium. 

Cole, who's won his first two starts this season, is a major challenge on any night but particularly when his 98 mph fastball and filthy breaking ball are being thrown to hitters who haven’t seen live pitching in eight days like the Phillies. The Phils’ bats likely need to shake off some rust. Good luck with that tonight. 

Cole signed a nine-year, $324 million contract in December just days after the Phillies signed Wheeler for $118 million over five years. The other big-name pitcher on the market was Stephen Strasburg, who followed a historic postseason by re-upping with the Nationals for $245 million over seven years. Cole’s AAV is $36 million, Strasburg’s is $35 million and Wheeler’s is $23.6 million. It will be interesting to see which starting pitcher gives his team the best bang for its buck over these next five years.

While Cole’s deal is for $11 million less than Bryce Harper’s in total, his AAV is much higher than Harper’s $25.4 million. Given that a position player plays five times more games in a normal season than a starting pitcher, Harper could end up providing his team more value during the life of his contract than Cole ... but let’s talk again in a decade.

If Cole indeed helps the Yankees win their first World Series since 2009 and second this millennium, nobody will question whether he was worth the money. Think back to that offseason before ‘09 when the Yankees committed $423.5 million to free agents CC Sabathia, Mark Teixeira and A.J. Burnett. 

Teixeira hit just .248 with the Yankees with an .822 OPS, far below expectations. But he also was the AL MVP runner-up in 2009 and the Yankees won it all his first season. 

Burnett had a 4.79 ERA in 98 career starts with the Yankees. But he also dominated the Phillies in Game 2 of the 2009 World Series to prevent his team from falling behind, at home, 2-0.

Big picture, both were worth it simply for the result of that season. The Yankees’ expectation with Cole is to win more than once, but even one title would probably make the deal worthwhile. 

The Phillies, with Harper, are a lot farther away, both because they haven’t acquired and/or developed young talents like Aaron Judge and Gleyber Torres, but also because the Yankees have probably the best bullpen in baseball and the Phillies might have the worst. Pay close attention to that in the four games this week. The Yankees have elite lefties Aroldis Chapman and Zack Britton, devastating righty Adam Ottavino and flamethrowing Tommy Kahnle. All four would be, by far, the best pitcher in a Phillies bullpen that has only one somewhat proven late-inning reliever: Hector Neris.

The Yankees have been ahead of the curve over the last handful of years building deep and uber-talented bullpens. And while it’s been more than a decade since they won it all, their GM Brian Cashman has done a remarkable job of building a major-market powerhouse that develops as well as it spends.

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Have any Phillies considered opting out of MLB season after Yoenis Cespedes, Lorenzo Cain, Francisco Liriano?

Have any Phillies considered opting out of MLB season after Yoenis Cespedes, Lorenzo Cain, Francisco Liriano?

Left-handed pitcher Francisco Liriano, a surprise cut by the Phillies days before the regular season began on July 24, has opted out of the 2020 MLB season, according to Robert Murray.

The 36-year-old Liriano looked poised to win an important spot in the Phillies' thin bullpen but was granted his release on July 18. The Phillies cited a desire to look at younger arms, though there also appeared to be financial matters at play regarding guaranteed money in this altered 60-game season.

Even at 36, Liriano could still have been a capable left-handed specialist in someone's bullpen this season. According to Murray, Liriano had multiple guaranteed offers but decided not to play.

The timing of his opt-out comes the same weekend that Brewers centerfielder Lorenzo Cain opted out of the 2020 season. The Brewers-Cardinals series has been postponed all weekend as numerous Cardinals have reportedly tested positive for COVID-19.

The Mets’ Yoenis Cespedes also opted out Sunday after no-showing his team’s game against the Braves. He went 5 for 31 with two homers the first week of the season. The Phillies and Mets are set to meet 10 times, the first series coming in mid-August at Citizens Bank Park with the other seven games in September.

The Phillies had all seven of their games postponed this week. They're set to make up all four against the Yankees this Monday through Thursday, and they could make up the Blue Jays series later in the season with doubleheaders when the teams meet Sept. 18-20.

Asked over the weekend if he knew of any Phillies players considering opting out, manager Joe Girardi said this:

"No, that has not happened in our clubhouse. The chatter I hear is guys saying, 'Let's go, we're ready to go, let's go.' That's the chatter I've heard so far. And again, if a player chooses to opt out, I fully support him because playing this game is hard enough and if your mind has concerns in other places, it's really gonna be hard."

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