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:
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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