With or without Arrieta, Phillies have rotation depth, competition for jobs

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With or without Arrieta, Phillies have rotation depth, competition for jobs


TAMPA, Fla. — The Phillies might not have that classic No. 1 starting pitcher that opponents fear, but they do have significant rotation depth.

Aaron Nola has been tabbed as the opening day starter (see story). After him, Jerad Eickhoff and Vince Velasquez will slot in somewhere and Nick Pivetta might have an edge on the rest of the pack for a spot in the rotation. All of this is subject to change, of course, but for the time being, there might be one opening in the rotation — and none if Jake Arrieta decides that he wants to be a Phillie.

The most realistic candidates to fill out the rotation are Zach Eflin, who is healthy and firing, and Ben Lively, but there are plenty more that will get a look, including Jake Thompson, Drew Hutchison, Drew Anderson and Tom Eshelman. Beyond that group, the Phils still have a number of starter prospects in camp, including Jose Taveras, Enyel De Los Santos, Cole Irvin, Brandon Leibrandt, Ranger Suarez and Franklyn Kilome. The organization will have no trouble stocking its Triple A and Double A rotations with prospects — and some tough decisions will have to be made on who goes where.

Lively kicked off his candidacy for a spot in the big-league rotation with two scoreless innings against the the Yankees on Monday night. The right-hander, who turns 26 next week, allowed just one hit and struck out three. He did not walk a batter.

Lively made his big-league debut last season and pitched to a 4.26 ERA in 15 starts. He is not a big strikeout guy — he struck out just 5.3 batters per nine innings — but has a bulldog quality that serves him well on the mound. He’s ready to compete for a spot in the rotation.

“Oh, yeah, everyone knows it’s a competition,” he said. “It’s fun to see everyone battle and compete. It’s awesome. It makes everyone better.”

Lively said he realized the importance of getting ahead of hitters and throwing inside last season. He said he learned to slow the game down, pitch to his strengths and not let “the big guys beat you.” He succeeded there on Monday night. One of his strikeouts came against Giancarlo Stanton, who hit 59 homers last season en route to winning the National League MVP award.

Eshelman also had a nice outing with two scoreless innings. He struck out two and walked none. Eshelman’s control is exceptional. He walked 1.1 batters per nine in 150 innings at Double A and Triple A last season and was the Phillies’ minor-league pitcher of the year. Eshelman is not on the 40-man roster. He lines up to return to Triple A, but could be a quick call-up if a need arises.

The Phillies lost to the Yankees, 4-3, on a solo homer by Miguel Andujar against Suarez in the bottom of the ninth.

Down to their last strike, the Phils tied the game at 3-3 on a solo homer by Scott Kingery in the top of the inning.

Eickhoff will make his Grapefruit League debut Tuesday against the Tigers. Velasquez will start Wednesday in Dunedin against the Blue Jays.

Jet belonging to Phillies owner John Middleton is in Bryce Harper's hometown of Las Vegas

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Jet belonging to Phillies owner John Middleton is in Bryce Harper's hometown of Las Vegas

CLEARWATER, Fla. — John Middleton’s private jet is on the ground in Las Vegas, a person in that city told NBC Sports Philadelphia on Friday night.

Las Vegas is the hometown of free-agent slugger Bryce Harper.

It is just a meeting and no deal will be signed Friday night, a source tells NBC Sports Philadelphia. No other details were immediately available, but the Phillies have had ongoing discussions with Harper since first visiting with him and his agent, Scott Boras, in Las Vegas on January 12.

The Phillies went into this offseason hoping to sign one of the game’s top free agents. They hosted Manny Machado in Philadelphia in December, but he ended up signing a 10-year, $300-million contract with the San Diego Padres this week.

Machado’s signing with the Padres left Harper as the Phillies’ primary focus.

Several clubs in addition to the Phillies have pursued the slugging outfielder. One of those clubs is the Washington Nationals, the team Harper came up with. The Nats made news early Friday when owner Mark Lerner said in an interview that the club had “moved on” from Harper. A comment like that would lead one to believe that the Nationals have pulled out of the Harper sweepstakes. However, in the same interview, Lerner said the “door was always cracked a little bit.” So maybe the Nationals are not out of it.

Harper is clearly seeking to top Machado’s deal and probably the $325 million guarantee that Giancarlo Stanton got from the Marlins in a 13-year extension. Stanton is now with the Yankees.

The Padres pursued Harper before signing Machado. The Giants have expressed interest. There has been talk of a mystery team. While it is unclear how many teams are still in pursuit of Harper, it is clear where the Phillies stand — or in this case, where they are parked.

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More on the Phillies

At The Yard Podcast: Any Harper competition left for Phillies? Herrera vs. Williams and more

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At The Yard Podcast: Any Harper competition left for Phillies? Herrera vs. Williams and more

On this edition of At The Yard, Corey Seidman and Ricky Bottalico discuss the latest surrounding Bryce Harper's free agency. With the Nationals out on him, do the Phillies have any competition for the superstar? Who could be a mystery team?

If the Phillies sign Harper, which outfielder becomes the odd man out: Odubel Herrera or Nick Williams? Also, will we see a better season from Jake Arrieta?

1:00 - Nationals look out on Bryce Harper.
5:00 - Are the Padres contenders for Harper even after signing Manny Machado?
7:00 - If Boras rejects 10 years/$300 million, the Phillies should walk away.
10:00 - How much more is Harper worth than Machado?
13:00 - Odubel Herrera vs. Nick Williams.
18:30 - Phillie with the best chance to take a big step forward.
22:00 - Will Jake Arrieta be better this season?

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