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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