The Phillies are apparently going with just one left-hander in their season-opening bullpen.
It looked like veteran Tony Watson and 24-year-old JoJo Romero were battling for the second lefty reliever spot, but Watson opted out of his minor-league contract this week after being informed by the Phillies he would not make the opening day roster, and on Sunday Romero was optioned to the minors along with Scott Kingery and Rafael Marchan.
Romero still factors into the Phillies' plans but had options remaining. He made 12 appearances as a rookie last season. The first nine were good, then he allowed six runs in an inning combined over his next two.
“JoJo had a pretty good spring,” manager Joe Girardi said. “We talked to him about some efficiency, being ahead in more counts. We’re really excited about JoJo. I think he has the possibility of being an elite reliever. He has a lot of weapons. To me, it’s just becoming a little bit more efficient for him.”
The Phillies’ opening day bullpen appears to be:
- Archie Bradley
- Jose Alvarado (LH)
- Hector Neris
- Connor Brogdon
- Brandon Kintzler
- Sam Coonrod
- David Hale
- Vince Velasquez
They will carry eight relievers, and Girardi said last week that he’d like to have two relievers capable of providing length. Hale and Velasquez would be the two. Velasquez missed about three weeks of spring training with an oblique issue but returned Sunday and threw 35 pitches in two innings of relief.
Coonrod, who has a 99 mph fastball, won a roster spot with a great camp. He appeared in eight games and allowed one run on three hits in 8⅓ innings with eight K’s. The Phillies acquired him in January from the Giants for pitcher Carson Ragsdale, their fourth-round pick in 2020.
It would seem based on this bullpen construction that Alvarado will not be the closer. If you have only one lefty in the ‘pen, it probably makes more sense to deploy him whenever the most important spot arises.
Part of the Phillies’ thinking going with just one lefty is that they have a few righties whose stuff can play against a left-handed hitter. Lefties have hit .212 the last three seasons against Bradley. They were 2 for 15 last season against Brogdon, who has a plus changeup. Kintzler has reverse platoon splits for his career, with lefties hitting 46 points lower than righties. Neris struggled against them in 2020 but held them to a .167 batting average and .272 OBP in 2019.
Still, this is a division with Freddie Freeman, Juan Soto, Michael Conforto, Dom Smith and Jeff McNeil, so the one-lefty setup may not last too long.