CLEARWATER, Fla. — The battle for the Phillies' fifth starter's job will get off to a quick start.
Manager Joe Girardi on Tuesday announced his starting pitchers for the first three Grapefruit League games.
Nick Pivetta will start the exhibition opener against the Detroit Tigers on Saturday in Lakeland.
Presumed opening day starter Aaron Nola will get the ball Sunday against the Pittsburgh Pirates in Clearwater.
Vince Velasquez will get the nod Monday against the Baltimore Orioles in Clearwater.
Girardi was not ready to announce any other pitching plans.
On paper, the top four spots in the Phillies' rotation appear set with Nola, Zack Wheeler, Jake Arrieta and Zach Eflin. Pivetta and Velasquez will vie for the fifth spot with pitchers like Ranger Suarez, Cole Irvin and prospect Damon Jones also getting a look.
"I think it's important that all these guys that are competing for the last spots get a ton of looks and we can afford to do that," Girardi said. "We have a number of games, we have split-squad games. We'll look at people. I think it's important that we do that, that we're fair to everyone because it's fair to the team that way.
"As we go forward, each start gets a little bit more important, but I think it's not fair to evaluate start 1 and start 2. That's the buildup stage."
Girardi, his staff and the front office will use a couple of factors in picking a fifth starter. Obviously, there is performance in spring training. In addition, Girardi said, the team will consider who might profile best in the bullpen. Suarez opened eyes in the bullpen last year. Velasquez and Pivetta both spent time in the rotation and the bullpen last year. One of them appears to be ticketed for the rotation and the other for the bullpen.
"The bottom line is we're going to want our 13 best pitchers to go with us and we have to kind of put that puzzle together," Girardi said.
New pitching coach Bryan Price has mentioned that a starter transitioning to the bullpen can benefit from some adjustment time because relieving is "a learned craft." In a perfect world, the Phils will identify who starts and who goes to the bullpen before the Grapefruit League schedule ends so the adjustment period can commence.
"We would like to do that," Girardi said. "That doesn't mean it will happen. If they make our job really difficult, it might get drawn out longer. And you can make it difficult two different ways — they're all pitching good or they're all scuffling."
Girardi hopes they're all pitching good.
In Price's view, a starter transitioning to the bullpen should not view the move as a slight.
"There's an emotional hurdle of not starting that has to be cleared," he said. "Some guys look at it as a demotion when it can really be something that stimulates a career and greatly impact the ballclub."
No team gets through a season with five starters. So today's reliever might be tomorrow's starter.
"Just because we pick a fifth starter at the end of March doesn't mean things couldn't change," Girardi said.
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