CLEARWATER, Fla. – A handful of important Phillies entered this spring training camp looking to rebound from injuries that ended their 2019 seasons.
Three of them were on the same field for a simulated game at the minor-league complex Sunday morning.
Right-hander Jake Arrieta threw 54 pain-free pitches over two-plus innings as he continued his healthy return from a surgical clean-out of his right elbow.
Lefty Adam Morgan also worked a pain-free inning as he continued his healthy return from an elbow strain which prevented him from pitching after July 31.
Though nothing is official, Arrieta lines up to start the third game of the regular season behind Aaron Nola and Zack Wheeler.
Morgan will fill a key role in the bullpen.
The Phillies are hoping that Seranthony Dominguez can join Morgan in getting important outs toward the end of games.
Dominguez also pitched in Sunday morning's simulated game. In fact, it was his first time pitching in at least a semi-competitive environment since he walked off the field in San Diego on June 5 with a ligament strain in his right elbow.
Dominguez passed Sunday's 13-pitch test -- he faced four batters, allowed a single and struck out two -- but there will be more to come before his status for opening day is decided.
“I feel really good and I’m happy about that,” Dominguez said. “I feel like I let it go as hard as I can. I don’t know about the velocity right now. I just think about being ahead in the count, controlling all my pitches and being ready for the season.”
Manager Joe Girardi liked what he saw of Dominguez.
"I thought it looked pretty good, the best I've seen since he started throwing bullpens," Girardi said. "He was up to 94 (mph) and threw some good sliders and a good changeup. I was happy with it. I wasn't sure what to expect."
It’s important that Dominguez be able to release the ball with authority, or, as he said, "as hard as I can." Not only does that create velocity, it shows that he trusts his elbow. That’s one of the big hurdles that a pitcher must clear coming back from an elbow injury.
Dominguez strained the ulna collateral ligament in his elbow. At the time of the injury, it was feared he would need Tommy John surgery and the year-plus recovery time that comes with it. But Dominguez visited with top surgeon James Andrews and surgery was not recommended. Dominguez spent the summer and fall months resting and rehabbing. This spring training is as much a test of his health as it is a time to prepare for the season.
The Phillies did little to upgrade their bullpen in the offseason. Getting Dominguez back healthy and effective is crucial to the team.
Dominguez will continue to work his way toward getting in an official Grapefruit League game. He said he believes he will be ready for opening day, but team officials will be cautious. Two weeks ago, Andrew McCutchen, one of the players whose season was ended by injury year, said it was his plan to be ready for opening day. On Friday, he was ruled out. McCutchen had surgery to repair a torn ACL in his left knee in June and is still working his way back. The Phillies hope that taking a conservative approach with McCutchen will allow him to have five healthy, impactful months on the active roster.
The next few weeks will determine if the team takes a similar approach with Dominguez.
As for the other Phillies coming back from season-ending injuries: Tommy Hunter (elbow surgery) has been throwing bullpen sessions. He is expected to open on the IL and be ready to go a month or so into the season. David Robertson, who is recovering from Tommy John surgery, is on a throwing program. He hopes to pitch during the second half of the season.