Phillies

Phillies' pitching plans with Spencer Howard ready to put heat on Vince Velasquez

Phillies

The Phillies made a slight adjustment to their pitching rotation after Friday night's rainout.

Jake Arrieta will stay on his regular fifth day and pitch Saturday night in what now is the first game of a four-game series against the Atlanta Braves at Citizens Bank Park.

Vince Velasquez, who had been scheduled to start Friday night, will move back and start one of the games in Sunday afternoon's doubleheader. Top prospect Spencer Howard is expected to make his major-league debut in the other game Sunday.

"I'm not ready to make an official announcement until tomorrow, but if nothing changes, you can expect it to be Spencer Howard," Phillies manager Joe Girardi said Saturday afternoon.

It wasn't immediately clear why the Phillies flip-flopped Arrieta and Velasquez. The Braves simply moved Friday night's scheduled starter, Kyle Wright, back a day after the rainout. 

The game was called 45 minutes before first pitch and it's possible that Velasquez had already started his pre-game stretching in the clubhouse or training room. Maybe the Phillies wanted to give him a day to reboot before he went through the routine again. Maybe it's possible that they wanted to sync up he and Howard and get them on the same day to facilitate the option of having Howard take over that spot in the rotation. Or maybe it's possible that the Phillies simply decided that Velasquez, who would have gone 11 days between starts had he pitched on Friday, could handle a couple more days. Long periods between starts can hurt a pitcher's effectiveness. With Arrieta pitching Saturday night, the Phils now have the chance to get four of their five starters on a five-day schedule.

 

Arrieta made his first start in nearly a year Monday night at Yankee Stadium. He pitched five innings and allowed three runs, two on a pair of homers. Arrieta walked none and struck out four. The right-hander believed the start was something to build on. Zack Wheeler, Aaron Nola and Zach Eflin also turned in starts that ranged from promising to excellent this week so the rotation is at least showing some signs of coming together.

Velasquez remains a different story. The enigmatic right-hander made a terrific showing in summer camp then blew a 4-0 lead in his first start on July 26 and lasted just three innings in a loss to Miami.

On the surface, especially with Howard coming, the leash does not appear to be very long on Velasquez. But, remember this: After Sunday's doubleheader, the Phillies still have five more doubleheaders to play before the 60-game schedule is complete so they're going to need at least six starters for a good chunk of the rest of the season. It would greatly behoove the Phillies if Velasquez and Howard were capable of delivering quality starts.

Friday night's quick postponement caused consternation with some fans who were looking forward to cracking a brew, lighting a cigar and watching the Phils. In ordinary times, Major League Baseball and the Phillies would have waited out the rain and started the game late. But COVID-19 protocols called for a quick postponement. For reasons of social distancing, MLB does not want large groups of players and staff congregating in clubhouses and dugouts for long periods of time. So the game was postponed quickly and everyone was sent home.

MLB's sensitivity to avoiding long rain delays became heightened last week when Chicago Cubs first baseman Anthony Rizzo took to Twitter to chastise the Cincinnati Reds for having a long delay before a game that was eventually postponed.

Sunday's doubleheader will be seven innings. That's also part of the COVID protocol. At the moment, 14 of the Phillies' 60 games (23 percent) will come in doubleheaders.

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