Projecting Phillies' opening day pitching staff

Projecting Phillies' opening day pitching staff

A lot could happen between now and opening day — injuries, an unexpected move by the Phillies, an epic hot streak that helps a player make the team — but we can begin identifying who will probably be on the Phils’ 25-man roster come March 28. 

Today, we’ll focus on the pitching staff. Sunday morning, we’ll look at the position players. 

First things first: The Phillies are off three times within the first eight days of the season. Baseball does this every year to build in makeup dates in case of early-season postponements. 

This means that if the Phils use Aaron Nola on regular rest, Nola could start two of the Phillies’ first four games of the season and three of their first eight. 

The Phillies, barring postponements, really don’t even need to use a fifth starter until mid-April. It will be interesting to see whether they use the schedule to carry an extra reliever at the expense of a fifth starter during the first two weeks of the season. That could mean, for example, utilizing Vince Velasquez out of the bullpen early on. There would be positives and negatives to that — the Phils would get a look at Velasquez as a reliever, but it would also mess with his routine. The latter consideration probably outweighs the former. 

Let’s project this thing:

Pitchers (13)

RHP Aaron Nola
RHP Jake Arrieta
RHP Nick Pivetta
RHP Zach Eflin
RHP Vince Velasquez

You’ll notice that Jerad Eickhoff was omitted from this projected group. Eickhoff is working his way back from a stamina perspective. He faced Bryce Harper earlier this week in a simulated game. Harper struck out against him, walked and took him deep once. 

Even if Eickhoff finds himself in position to start a game in spring training, it’s unlikely he will have worked his pitch count up to the range that he could contribute to the Phils’ rotation in early April. Eickhoff has a minor-league option left and could start the season at Triple-A Lehigh Valley, where he’d be able to start every fifth and develop arm strength. 

Pivetta, Eflin and Velasquez all have an option left as well, for what it’s worth. 

RHP Seranthony Dominguez
RHP David Robertson
RHP Pat Neshek
RHP Hector Neris
LHP Jose Alvarez
LHP Adam Morgan or James Pazos
RHP Victor Arano
RHP Juan Nicasio

Know what the 2019 Phillies should do less frequently? Use Dominguez for more than three outs. The Phils did not have Robertson last year, and Hector Neris didn’t hit his stride until late in the season. Thus, they were forced to use Dominguez more than they probably should have. Of his 53 appearances, 16 lasted more than an inning. His effectiveness declined as the season wore on. 

Alvarez and Morgan are out of options. Pazos has one left. You’d think this gives Alvarez and Morgan the advantage of making the opening day roster as the Phillies would risk losing them if not. 

Nicasio is making $9 million this season so he will probably at least get an early-season look from the Phillies to see if he can recapture his effectiveness from 2017, when he had a 2.61 ERA in a National League-leading 76 appearances. 

If this is the opening day bullpen, one of the notable odd men out would be Edubray Ramos, who had a 2.32 ERA in 52 appearances with the Phils in 2018. Ramos has options left. 

This list also excludes Tommy Hunter, who was shut down for at least two weeks with an elbow strain in the final days of February. His opening day status is up in the air. 

Position players on Sunday.

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Bryce Harper's Top 5 home runs as a Phillie

Bryce Harper's Top 5 home runs as a Phillie

Today is the one-year anniversary of Bryce Harper's first regular-season home run as a Phillie, a 465-foot solo shot off of former Phils first-round pick Jesse Biddle.

The Phillies swept the Braves in that opening series and Harper went deep in the second and third games. He hit seven of his 35 home runs against the Braves, three more than he had against any other team in 2019.

Let's look back at Harper's top five home runs as a Phillie in Year 1.

1. Walk-off grand slam vs. Cubs (Aug. 15)

You knew this was going to be No. 1. It was probably the top moment of the Phillies' 2019 season.

The Phillies were down 5-3 with the bases loaded and one out in the bottom of the ninth when Harper sent a 2-2 pitch from lefty Derek Holland into the second deck in right field.

Everything about the moment was great — from the height and majesty of Harper's walk-off grand slam to John Kruk's "Oh my god!" to Tom McCarthy's call.

This win made the Phillies 63-58 and was part of a season-long four-game winning streak. They won four in a row on five different instances but lost the fifth game each time.

Harper has six career walk-off home runs. This was his first since May of 2017.

2. Harper drops the mic in return to D.C. (April 2)

This one didn't affect the outcome of the game like the walk-off grand slam but it was definitely a memorable moment on a night when Harper was booed nonstop.

It was the Phillies' fourth game of the season and they had just swept the Braves. The Nats started Max Scherzer in one of many long, rainy games in D.C. between the Phils and Nats.

Late in the night, with the Phillies already up 6-2, Harper absolutely crushed a Jeremy Hellickson pitch to the second deck in right-center. There were a ton of Phillies fans in attendance and they made up most of the remaining crowd. 

Check out how that section in right field stirs after the crack of the bat.

3. Harper splashes into McCovey Cove for the win (Aug. 9)

Another late-game home run against a left-handed reliever. The Phillies were down 6-5 in the seventh inning in San Francisco when Harper hit a 3-run shot into McCovey Cove against Tony Watson.

It went 456 feet. The Phillies badly needed it because it was their only win in the final six of a seven-game West Coast trip.

This was when Harper was at his hottest. In 20 games from Aug. 5 through Aug. 31, he hit .304 with 10 homers and 24 RBI.

4. Blasting off onto Ashburn Alley (May 18)

This was Harper's longest home run of the year, a 466-footer on a Saturday afternoon to straightaway center field that cleared almost everything and landed on Ashburn Alley.

The Phillies swept the Rockies in this early-season series and emerged 27-19. Remember those days? The Phils' high watermark came 10 days later at 33-22.

5. Bryce beats the Dodgers early and late (July 16)

Probably Harper's best game of the season.

The Phillies jumped on Dodgers ace Walker Buehler for six runs in one of Buehler's worst starts. Harper punctuated the Phillies' second-inning rally with a 458-foot, three-run shot off Buehler on a fastball just over 98 mph. He did even more damage later.

This was one of the Phillies' wildest games of the year. They led 6-1 after three innings but the Dodgers came all the way back and went ahead 8-6 in the top of the ninth. 

With one out in the bottom of the ninth against Kenley Jansen, Andrew Knapp doubled, Cesar Hernandez singled, Scott Kingery drove in a run with an RBI single and Harper hit a walk-off two-run double.

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Delay in MLB season gives Phillies star J.T. Realmuto something to think about

Delay in MLB season gives Phillies star J.T. Realmuto something to think about

At least the Phillies got one full season of J.T. Realmuto.

The Los Angeles Dodgers could end up getting nothing from Mookie Betts.

While there is hope of a Major League Baseball season in 2020, no one knows for sure if one will happen. One-hundred games, 120, 88, zero. No one knows. Our world is at the mercy of this beast called coronavirus and baseball is just a small part of our world.

But baseball is what we do here, so we have to consider these possibilities and one of them is that the popular and talented Realmuto has played his last game with the Phillies.

Last week, Major League Baseball and the Players Association agreed that players would continue to accrue service time during the game's health-related shutdown. This means that established players who are just one season shy of free agency will still arrive at that precious and lucrative destination next offseason, regardless of whether or not there is a 2020 season.

Now, all sides are hopeful that there will be baseball in 2020, and the guess here is that there will indeed be some type of a season. But if this pandemic does not subside and the sport is shuttered for the season, Betts, picked up by the Dodgers in a February trade with the Red Sox, will enter the free-agent market next winter without ever wearing Dodger blue in an official game.

If the sport is shuttered for the year, Realmuto will become a free agent after just one All-Star season with the Phillies. Pitchers Trevor Bauer, James Paxton and Marcus Stroman will all become free agents without throwing a competitive pitch in 2020.

The Phillies have made it clear that they would like to keep Realmuto off the free-agent market. They have long called him the best catcher in baseball and with that praise seems to come an acknowledgment that they’d be willing to give him a multi-year deal with an average annual value of more than $23 million, which would exceed Joe Mauer’s record AAV for a catcher. The Phils had been engaged in talks with Realmuto’s representation about a potential contract extension before spring training camps were shut down earlier this month.

When camps were shut down, health and safety of players, staff and fans became the top priority, and contract negotiations, as a practical matter, were back-burnered. Now, they are officially off the stove as MLB has issued an indefinite freeze on transactions and negotiations.

If and when MLB comes up with a clearer idea of when the season will start, the Phillies will surely engage Realmuto’s side in contract talks again.

But now, a new variable has entered the picture.

The Phillies' best bit of leverage in talks with Realmuto was the season itself, the 162-game grind of the schedule and the risk of injury that all players assume. Suffering an injury in a walk year could seriously impact any player’s earning power in free agency so, in that regard, opening day and the length of the season was seen as an ally for the Phillies.

But what happens if the season is shortened dramatically? A shorter season would not eliminate the risk of injury because injury has no calendar and it does not discriminate Game 25 from Game 152. But, could fewer games be enough of a mitigating factor in Realmuto’s mind that he takes the risk of playing whatever the 2020 season looks like without the security of an extension so he can take his chances on greater free-agent riches in just a few months?

It’s something to think about.

But so is this:

Regardless of whether the 2020 season is simply altered, shortened or canceled altogether, revenues throughout the game are going to shrink, maybe drastically. The shutdown affects everything from ticket sales, to parking, to merchandise and concessional sales. It affects the huge revenues that teams generate through national and local media deals (TV and radio) and sponsorships. Fewer dollars coming in will affect the overall pool and that could impact next winter’s free-agent market in the amount of money that teams have to spend.

So, Realmuto has a few things to think about. Some of it might excite him. Some of it might not.

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