Phillies

Who’s playing third base behind Aaron Nola? Yep, it’s Bryce Harper

Who’s playing third base behind Aaron Nola? Yep, it’s Bryce Harper

Two members of the Phillies' starting pitching rotation took a step forward Monday.

And Bryce Harper did his best Mike Schmidt imitation.

First, the pitching stuff.

Aaron Nola took the mound for the first time in an intrasquad game as he remained on course to potentially start the season opener a week from Friday.

And Zach Eflin, who had been slowed for several days by back spasms, was able to throw a bullpen session without any problem.

"He threw a beautiful pen," pitching coach Bryan Price said. "There were no limitations. He threw it great, aggressive."

Manager Joe Girardi said Eflin's command was "great."

Eflin is projected to slot fourth in the Phillies' rotation but he could move back a spot if he needs an extra day.

Nola, Zack Wheeler and Jake Arrieta will precede Eflin in the rotation. Vince Velasquez and Nick Pivetta are battling for the final spot in the rotation. One of them will end up in a bullpen that could number 11 men out of the gate.

Rosters will be increased from 26 to 30 men for the first two weeks of the season. There is no limit on how many pitchers a team can carry.

Nola faced 14 batters and struck out one over three unstructured innings of work. He faced extra batters in the first two innings to get his pitch count up. He retired eight of the first nine batters he faced and allowed two hits and two walks in his third inning of work.

"Aaron threw well," Girardi said. "He lost his command a little in that third inning, but that's probably normal fatigue at the end in your first time out. I feel good about where Aaron is."

Nola threw 47 pitches. He should get up to about 65 in his next outing and that would put him on target to start opening night. Girardi has not officially named Nola his opening night starter because he wants to see how the next week or so of workouts unfolds. But Girardi did acknowledge that Nola could indeed be the opening night starter if all continues to go well.

Nola might still be a little behind in his work. He missed the first few days of workouts because he had come in contact with someone who had been infected by COVID-19. Though Nola was not infected, protocol called for him to stay away from the team for several days.

Several coaches and staff members were pressed into duty as defenders during the intrasquad game.

Harper got some time — six defensive outs — at third base. 

Girardi acknowledged there was risk putting the $330 million man, usually a right fielder, 90 or so feet away from the hitter. 

"I think it's important the guys have fun," Girardi said. "I saw him a week ago taking ground balls there and I was impressed. His hands worked well out front and he threw the ball across the field well. I told him, 'You look good there.'"

Girardi said Harper had been bugging him to play third in an intrasquad game.

Finally, Girardi relented.

"All right. One inning," the manager said. "But no diving. And make sure your arm is loose."

Harper got one ball in the field, a bouncer to his left. He moved his feet nicely, fielded it cleanly and threw a strike across the diamond for the third out.

Then he styled it off the field a la Mike Schmidt.

It really was not surprising that Harper handled himself well at third. He was a catcher in college and had played third before. He moved to the outfield in pro ball.

The Phils play another intrasquad game Tuesday night. Wheeler and Velasquez will each pitch four innings.

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Phillies 28-man roster: Kyle Garlick, Enyel De Los Santos optioned to Lehigh Valley

Phillies 28-man roster: Kyle Garlick, Enyel De Los Santos optioned to Lehigh Valley

To trim their roster from 30 to 28 ahead of Thursday's deadline, the Phillies optioned outfielder Kyle Garlick and right-handed reliever Enyel De Los Santos to their satellite site at Lehigh Valley.

MLB rosters will stay at 28 the rest of the regular season and postseason. Initially, rosters were set to be cut to 26 two weeks from now but MLB has revised that rule amid so many game postponements already related to COVID-19.

The Phillies now have 13 position players and 15 pitchers, a.k.a a four-man bench and 10-man bullpen. Garlick was the likeliest bench candidate to go given that he has options remaining. The Phillies didn't need to remove Garlick, or De Los Santos for that matter, from their 40-man roster to remove them from the active roster.

Garlick's ability to hit lefties for power was why the Phillies carried him on their opening day roster. He went 0 for 2 in the Phillies' first six games, both at-bats coming in the first game of Wednesday's doubleheader started by Yankees lefty J.A. Happ. 

De Los Santos had not pitched yet this season. He pitched 30 innings for the Phillies across 2018 and 2019 with a 5.70 ERA and 1.50 WHIP. Still, there was a belief he could help in this bullpen which lacks right-handed threats beyond closer Hector Neris and right-handed velocity overall.

It appeared that Austin Davis, a fringe reliever, might be the bullpen casualty after he allowed four runs to the Yankees while recording one out, but the Phillies opted to keep the extra lefty over the extra righty.

This is their bullpen, which has a 9.18 ERA and .338 opponents' batting average this season with no magic potions in sight:

Hector Neris
Tommy Hunter
Adam Morgan (LHP)
Jose Alvarez (LHP)
Deolis Guerra
Trevor Kelley
Nick Pivetta
Ramon Rosso
Cole Irvin (LHP)
Austin Davis (LHP)

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Bryce Harper has company in the J.T. Realmuto Fan Club with Zack Wheeler

Bryce Harper has company in the J.T. Realmuto Fan Club with Zack Wheeler

If Bryce Harper is president of the J.T. Realmuto Fan Club, Zack Wheeler is vice president.

Wheeler notched his second win in as many starts with the Phillies in Game 1 of a doubleheader against the Yankees on Wednesday. The right-hander pitched six innings of three-run ball and was supported by homers from Harper and Realmuto.

In recent weeks, Harper has been outspoken in his desire to see the Phillies extend Realmuto's contract.

Wheeler chimed in with his own subtle endorsement of the All-Star catcher after Wednesday's game.

"Playing against him all these years, I was wishing he was my catcher and now he is," Wheeler said. "That was part of me coming over here, and I love throwing to him."

Wheeler, a former New York Met, signed a five-year, $118 million contract with the Phillies in December. The Chicago White Sox actually offered Wheeler more money but staying on the East Coast and in the National League East appealed to the pitcher. And now we know that joining Realmuto was a factor in his decision, as well.

Wheeler has pitched 13 innings and allowed just four runs over two starts with his new club, both with Realmuto behind the plate.

"Against a lineup like the Yankees, you have to make pitches," Wheeler said after Wednesday's game. "Me and J.T. were on the same page all day. He can call a game and that's what you need back there.

"And he's a great receiver, one of the best in the game at that. And when guys get on base, you don't have that thought in the back of your head about being slow to the plate because he'll make up for it with his arm. And, of course, he can swing it."

Realmuto will become a free agent at season's end. The Phillies hope to sign him to an extension. Time will tell if that happens.

In the meantime, you can bet that Realmuto's agent will save Wheeler's endorsement for his client's free-agent dossier.

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