Phillies

Do Phillies have enough in bullpen besides their top trio?

Do Phillies have enough in bullpen besides their top trio?

The Phillies have three very good relievers in Seranthony Dominguez, David Robertson and Pat Neshek. 

Do they have enough in the bullpen besides that trio? It highlights the importance of the Phillies getting the production Hector Neris gave them in the second half of 2018, when he struck out half the batters he faced. 

If Victor Arano and Edubray Ramos cannot step up and seize roles as they did last season, the bullpen could be a concern. Arano struggled badly again Saturday vs. the Astros, allowing six runs without recording an out. In three innings this spring, Arano has allowed 21 baserunners and has an ERA of 51.00. 

Spring training numbers aren’t super meaningful, but it’s hard to look past them when they’re that bad. 

Arano, with his sinker-slider combo, was very good for most of 2018. Manager Gabe Kapler referred more than once to his “stones” — a euphemism we shouldn’t need to explain. 

Arano does have minor-league options left and it’s fair to wonder whether he’s pitched his way off the opening day roster. 

If the Phillies open with an eight-man bullpen, Dominguez, Robertson, Neshek and Neris are locks. Lefties Adam Morgan and Jose Alvarez — both out of options — appear to be as well. 

Those final two spots are up for grabs, especially with Tommy Hunter still sidelined by a flexor strain.

The Phillies have an exciting young right-hander in Edgar Garcia, who could make a Dominguez-like impact in 2019. But he was optioned to Triple A on March 11, making him unlikely to contribute right away. 

Yacksel Rios could make this team out of camp. He’s looked great this spring and can touch the upper-90s. If the focus is what-have-you-done-for-me-lately, he should be in Philly on March 28. 

Juan Nicasio, making $9M in the last year of his contract, could make the club by default. 

But if the Phillies are unsure whether this unit can protect enough leads ... Craig Kimbrel is still out there. Even at this point, you’re not getting him for cheap. Signing Kimbrel might require only a two-year commitment at this point but it would still take the Phillies right up against the luxury tax threshold, which has more meaningful ramifications down the road than just this season (see story).

Former Phillie Ryan Madson, now 38 years old, is also still out there. Like Kimbrel, he’s been unsatisfied with the offers he’s received. Madson was excellent in 2017 (1.83 ERA in 60 appearances) but last season had his highest ERA (5.47) since becoming a full-time reliever in 2007. He wouldn’t cost nearly as much as Kimbrel. 

Opening day is 12 days away. We’ll see whether the Phillies are confident enough in this bunch to protect the leads they’ll have more frequently this season.

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Bryce Harper, Jake Arrieta, the infield puzzle ... lots going on in Phillies camp Tuesday

Bryce Harper, Jake Arrieta, the infield puzzle ... lots going on in Phillies camp Tuesday

CLEARWATER, Fla. – Tuesday should be an interesting day in Phillies camp.

Bryce Harper will make his spring debut. He is slated to play five innings against the Toronto Blue Jays at Spectrum Field.

Jake Arrieta, healthy and upbeat after having his elbow surgically cleaned out last season, will make his first start of the spring in the game.

Forty-five miles south, in Bradenton, the Phillies will play a split-squad game against the Pittsburgh Pirates. Lefty Ranger Suarez, a dark horse candidate for the fifth starting pitcher’s job, will get the start against the Pirates.

Lefty Damon Jones, who emerged as a solid starting pitching prospect last season, is also slated to get some work in that game. Jones struck out 12 batters per nine innings in the minors last season. He is slated to open the season at Triple A but could be in the picture in Philadelphia at some point.

Manager Joe Girardi will preside over the game in Bradenton.

Girardi is making the trip over the Sunshine Skyway because he wants to get a look at Suarez.

He also wants to continue to evaluate Jean Segura’s work at third base. Segura is slated to start at third base in Bradenton and Scott Kingery at second base. The addition of shortstop Didi Gregorius has pushed Segura off shortstop. Segura has experience at second base and is open to playing there. But the team would prefer to use him at third base so Kingery can play second base, his best position. This equation all rides on Segura’s ability to play third.

“It's important I continue to see Segura at third and Kingery at second,” Girardi said.

Monday's game

The Phillies beat Baltimore, 8-7. Mikie Mahtook, Luke Williams, Logan Forsythe and Nick Maton all homered for the Phillies.

Minor-leaguer Carlos De La Cruz, who stands 6-8, got some time in center field for the Phillies.

“I thought that was Ben Simmons out there,” Girardi quipped. “I thought we were getting Ben Simmons an at-bat.”

Girardi loved the work of minor-league catcher Rafael Marchan.

“My favorite part of the game was Marchan,” Girardi raved. “He's the block master. The master. That might have been the best exhibition of blocking I have ever seen in one game.”

That’s high praise from Girardi, who caught for 15 seasons in the majors and was part of three World Series championship teams.

Marchan, who turns 21 on Tuesday, played in Single A last season. He is considered an excellent defender.

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This is a recording: Vince Velasquez seeks efficiency

This is a recording: Vince Velasquez seeks efficiency

CLEARWATER, Fla. – In four seasons with the Phillies, Vince Velasquez has teased with his potential and frustrated with his inconsistency.

But at least he hasn’t lost his sense of humor.

Standing in front of his locker at Spectrum Field on Monday afternoon, Velasquez made a pack of reporters break into laughter after his spring debut against the Baltimore Orioles.

“I threw 26 pitches in two innings – which is a shocker,” he said comically.

Running high pitch counts early in games has been one of the reasons for Velasquez’ frustrating inconsistency.

“The past three or four years, it’s always been an issue,” the 27-year-old right-hander said.

He’s trying to address the shortcoming – and several others – this spring under new pitching coach Bryan Price, who just might be the most popular guy in camp right now, at least with a pitching staff that is eating up everything he has to say, especially when it comes to pitching down in the strike zone.

“I’ve developed a lot of confidence with Bryan and really trust in his work,” Velasquez said. “I’ve told you guys so many times that I have that confidence to be that pitcher and I think Bryan is the guy who is going to pull that out of me.”

When Velasquez says, “that pitcher,” he means, that starting pitcher. He knows he’s in a battle for the fifth starter’s job. He knows about all the talk of possibly ending up in the bullpen when camp breaks.

But he wants to start.

“I know what the task is at hand,” he said. “It’s just a matter of what I have to do to earn that spot. Today was a good display of what I can be. It seemed like everything was working in my favor. I walked the first guy and then got some ground balls. I executed pitches down in the zone.”

Velasquez allowed just one hit, a walk and he struck out one in his two innings of work. The Phillies won the game, 8-7.

Velasquez is competing mostly with Nick Pivetta for the No. 5 starter’s job. Lefty Ranger Suarez, who will get a start Tuesday against the Pirates in Bradenton, is also in the mix.

Manager Joe Girardi has stressed that the competition for jobs has not really started yet, that the first couple of starts are a time to prepare for the competition that will come in March. But he is clearly watching. He liked what he saw of Velasquez on Monday. He especially liked the economy of pitches.

“He was very efficient,” Girardi said. “That's how you get deep in games. If you're throwing 20 pitches every inning, it's not a very long night.”

At least not for the starter.

Sometimes it is for the team.

Girardi mentioned how much he liked seeing Velasquez execute pitches down in the strike zone. Last year, Velasquez was encouraged to work the top of the strike zone. He has the giddy-up on his fastball to do that, but locating the pitch was a problem and poorly located pitches up in the zone turn into trouble and short outings.

“He got outs down in the zone, not just up in the zone, which he's done a lot in the past,” Girardi said. “But he got outs down in the zone. Because he did that, he was pretty efficient. He got a strikeout down there. He got a double play down there. So, I was encouraged by what he did.”

Velasquez believes he was too predictable last season, that he got away from throwing his changeup and lived too high in the zone with his fastball. He still wants to elevate and has the stuff to do it, but he also wants to work the lower part of the zone with his fastball like he did Monday.

“I was living at the top of the zone 95 percent of the time,” he said. “Every game plan was always at the top of the zone, so, again, you’ve got to learn how to change speeds and live up and down and in and out.

“I have the weapon to go up in the zone. That pitch just makes it even more useful to go down in the zone. You can’t be too predictable in this game.”

It’s too early to predict whether Velasquez will end up in the rotation or the bullpen. But if his work the rest of the spring is as efficient as it was Monday, he will give Phillies decision-makers something to think about.

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