Countdown to Clearwater: 5 questions about Phillies pitchers

Countdown to Clearwater: 5 questions about Phillies pitchers

The Phillies open spring training in Clearwater, Florida next week. In preview, we take a look at five storylines:

Tuesday — Five new faces to watch 

Wednesday — Five questions on the position side 

Thursday — Five questions on the pitching side

Friday — Five prospects to watch

Saturday — Five people with something to prove

 Earl Weaver used to say the only thing that matters is what happens on that little hump out in the middle of the field. With that, we examine five pitching questions facing the Phillies as they head into camp:

Will they designate a closer?

With Seranthony Dominguez, Hector Neris and David Robertson, the Phillies have closer candidates, and it would not be a complete surprise to see someone take hold of the role as the season unfolds. But heading into camp, it seems as if the Phils will stay flexible, avoid hanging the label "closer" on any one guy, and play the matchup game in the late innings. That includes the ninth.

“We are likely to continue to use guys in a variety of roles late in the game,” general manager Matt Klentak said on the day he signed Robertson, who has three 30-plus save seasons in his career.

Nine different relievers recorded a save for the Phillies last season, led by Dominguez with 16. He certainly has the stuff to close, but he also has value as a kill shot when the game is on the line in the seventh or eighth inning. Neris had a few difficult months last season and ended up in the minors. But he was a beast after rediscovering his splitter and his confidence and struck out 35 of the 69 batters he faced over the final six weeks of the season.

Will Aaron Nola’s arbitration case cause problems?

Probably not. There were similar worries when Ryan Howard went to court over salary in 2008 and he ended up signing two long-term extensions with the club. Of course, he won his high profile, $10 million arbitration case after an MVP award and 105 homers and 285 RBIs the previous two seasons.

Nola's case will be heard on Feb. 14, the second day of official workouts, and he is expected to attend the hearing. The pitcher, eligible for salary arbitration for the first time, and his representatives are seeking $6.75 million. They will build their case around the pitcher’s third-place finish in the Cy Young voting last season. If that doesn’t convince the arbitration panel that he is worth the money, maybe these stats will: Nola finished fourth in the majors in ERA (2.37) and quality starts (25) and fifth in innings (212 1/3) and WHIP (0.97) in 2018.   

The Houston Astros paid Dallas Keuchel $7.25 million in his first arbitration year after he won the AL Cy Young in 2016 and Nola’s side sees that as a legitimate comparable. The Phillies’ offer of $4.5 million seems to be more in line with what Matt Harvey ($4.35 million) and Jacob deGrom ($4.05 million) got in their first year of arbitration.

This is business: A player looking to capitalize on a big year and a team trying to toe the industry line. It’s difficult to see there being a lot of fallout from a process that both sides understand so well. And, either way, the team is likely to explore a long-term extension with Nola in the near future and the pitcher would be very interested in that.

Are they done adding?

Clearly, the team thought it needed more starting pitching, hence the offers it made to lefty starters Patrick Corbin and J.A. Happ, both of whom signed elsewhere. The Phils could still look to fill their lefty void by signing someone like Keuchel to a short-term deal. The team has also continually monitored the market for closer Craig Kimbrel. Even if the Phils don’t add another reliever, they may have to subtract from a crowded bullpen before the spring is over. Tommy Hunter has been shopped for a deal. The construction of this pitching staff will continue through July and you’ll hear the name Madison Bumgarner a lot if the Phils are within striking distance.

Whither Eick?

Jerad Eickhoff was the team’s best starting pitcher in 2016, but he’s been plagued by injury the last two seasons. Off-season surgery to address a condition similar to carpal tunnel syndrome has Eickhoff back on track and ready to challenge for a rotation spot.

Who will step forward?

Zach Eflin, Nick Pivetta and Vince Velasquez are all talented and they’ve all racked up valuable experience the last couple of seasons. Much of this team’s success will ride on one or two of these guys becoming consistently successful behind Nola and Jake Arrieta.

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Phillies’ 2021 schedule includes a bucket list trip for baseball fans

Phillies’ 2021 schedule includes a bucket list trip for baseball fans

Three days after MLB’s 2020 schedule came out, the league released the 2021 schedule.

There’s so much uncertainty around baseball right now, with COVID-19 cases around the league, issues with testing, players opting out and many others wary of the virus. There will be no fans in the stands in 2020, but this look at the 2021 schedule provides some early excitement for if/when the coronavirus pandemic slows enough to allow fans back into stadiums.

The Phillies will open the 2021 season at home against the Braves on April 1. The first four series alternate between Braves and Mets, the first two at home and next two on the road.

The Phils’ earliest 2021 non-division road trip is to Colorado and St. Louis from April 23-29.

The month of May includes two long road trips — a nine-gamer through Atlanta, Washington and Toronto, and another nine-game trip to Miami, Tampa and Cincy the week of Memorial Day. The Phillies also have a home weekend series against the Red Sox.

The Phillies face a daunting slate in June, with 11 consecutive games against the Nationals, Braves, Yankees and Dodgers. That Dodgers series is the Phils’ first West Coast swing, with a series in San Francisco to follow.

The Phillies are home for July 4 (a Sunday) against the Padres and then close out the first half of 2021 on the road at Wrigley Field and Fenway Park in back-to-back series. That is a bucket list trip for many baseball fans.

From July 22 through Aug. 15, the Phils play 17 of 24 games at home, before their final West Coast trip to Arizona and San Diego.

September/October 2021 is not as heavy a dose of division matchups as usual for the final month. Only 13 of the Phillies’ 30 regular-season games after Sept. 1 are against NL East teams. Their final week is a trip to Atlanta and Miami.

The Phillies’ interleague schedule is entirely against the AL East, so these two divisions will become quite familiar over the next 15 months. The Phillies play the Rays, Blue Jays, Yankees and Red Sox on the road. They host the Red Sox, Yankees, Rays and Orioles.

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Who is that masked man at first base? It might be Rhys Hoskins

Who is that masked man at first base? It might be Rhys Hoskins

Rhys Hoskins is taking Major League Baseball’s health protocols very seriously.

Heck, he wore a mask during a zoom video session with reporters after Wednesday’s intrasquad game at Citizens Bank Park.

Hoskins did not wear a mask during the game.

But he may opt to wear one when the regular season starts on July 24.

Or even sooner.

Hoskins is a first baseman and that position isn’t exactly the best place to employ social distancing. You have to hold runners on base, take pickoff throws from the pitcher and make sweep tags on runners diving back to the base. Occasionally, a first baseman and base runner get physically tangled. You know, the throw from the pitcher is off-line. The first baseman lunges to stop it from going down the right-field line. Next thing you know, the first baseman is sprawled on top of the base runner.

That doesn’t exactly qualify as good social-distance practice.

So Hoskins may don a mask in the field one of these days.

“I thought that any time I was on the field, I would not be wearing a mask, but maybe it’s something I keep in my back pocket in a Ziploc baggie or something,” Hoskins said. “When somebody gets on first, I throw it on."

“It might make some more sense if I am wearing a mask in the field.”

Sitting outside the Phillies’ clubhouse, Hoskins tugged on the mask he was wearing during his zoom interview. 

“I’m not super bothered by it,” he said. “These are pretty comfortable. Hot for sure but the expense of being hot is worth not catching this thing and potentially ruining a season. It’s definitely something I’ll have to give thought to and ask the trainers and see what they say and go from there. I’m not opposed to it.”

Hoskins knows full well what a beast coronavirus can be. He and teammate Scott Kingery are longtime best buds. Kingery spoke of his battle with coronavirus earlier this week.

First base is baseball’s water cooler and the men who play the position are generally gregarious by nature. Hoskins is no exception. He likes to chat with base runners and share a laugh during breaks in the action.

That practice might be going away. Just like spitting.

Will Hoskins chat with base runners?

“I don't know if I will,” he said. “At least if I am, it's definitely not looking at him. I'll probably just continue to look at the pitcher.  

“But yeah, that's something that happens, I think, on every baseball field. Runner on first, there's usually some sort of exchange and off we go, we're talking about whatever we're talking about. Again, just a little adjustment that we'll have to make."

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