Phillies

Tommy Hunter’s injury will impact Phillies' bullpen puzzle

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Tommy Hunter’s injury will impact Phillies' bullpen puzzle

TAMPA — Phillies reliever Tommy Hunter has a strained flexor muscle in his pitching arm. The right-hander, according to manager Gabe Kapler, will be shut down for two weeks. That timetable puts into jeopardy his being ready for opening day.

Hunter, 32, is in the second year of a two-year, $18-million contract with the Phillies. He began last season on the disabled list with a hamstring strain but came back to pitch in 65 games. He recorded a 3.80 ERA.

Hunter’s injury will temporarily ease a numbers issue that the Phillies are facing in the bullpen. They would like to carry an eight-man bullpen and currently have a surplus of arms. Even before his injury, Hunter has been considered a trade candidate as the Phillies shopped him for a potential deal this winter.

With about a month to go before opening day, the Phillies’ bullpen looks like this: Seranthony Dominguez, David Robertson and Hector Neris are locks. Pat Neshek has a spot unless he is traded. Juan Nicasio’s $9 million salary probably makes him a lock. Lefties Adam Morgan and Jose Alvarez are both out of minor-league options so that will help their cause. With Hunter likely opening on the DL, the final spot in the opening day bullpen would likely come down to Victor Arano, Yacksel Rios, Austin Davis, James Pazos and Edubray Ramos. Arano, who had a 2.73 ERA in 60 games last year, is probably the lead guy in that group. He would have been difficult to keep off the roster even without an injury thinning the field.

There's still a lot of time before opening day and numbers issues like these have a way of working out.

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Injuries and schedule changes have already created a chaotic NL East picture

Injuries and schedule changes have already created a chaotic NL East picture

A little less than two weeks into the season, injuries and schedule changes have already created a chaotic picture in the NL East.

Two teams have played 11 games. One team has played seven. One has played four and another has played three.

The only NL East teams who haven't missed any early-season games are the Braves (7-4) and Mets (4-7). The Braves are 2½ games ahead of the Phillies and one game ahead in the loss column. 

The Phillies are in a better early-season position than the Mets just because the Mets have already accrued seven losses. The only two teams in the majors with more are the Pirates and Royals.

Though, which team would you rather be: The team that already has seven losses or the team that has five additional games to make up? It's an advantage for the Mets and Braves that they have less hectic remaining schedules than the rest of the division. The Phillies have 56 games left to play in just 54 days. The Mets and Braves have 49 games left in those same 54 days. 

The Phillies' first series with the Braves is this weekend at home after they finish with the Yankees. Early as it is, that series carries major significance. The Phillies will play 40% of their games against the Braves in this one weekend wraparound series from Friday through Monday. Going 1-3 or 0-4 against the Braves would put the Phillies in a deep hole from which their jam-packed schedule might not allow them to dig out. 

As the Phillies and Marlins have sat, the other three teams in the division have dealt with injuries. The Braves on Monday night lost Mike Soroka, their No. 1 starter. Just hours before his 23rd birthday, Soroka tore his right Achilles and is done for 2020. He is one of their most important players. Soroka was an All-Star last season who finished second in NL Rookie of the Year voting to Pete Alonso and sixth in NL Cy Young voting. In 37 career starts, he's 15-6 with a 2.86 ERA. With Soroka out, the Braves have Max Fried, Sean Newcomb, Touki Toussaint, Kyle Wright and a to-be-determined fifth starter. Not exactly a starting staff you look at and expect to ride to a division crown.

The Mets scratched three infielders on Monday — Jeff McNeil with back tightness, Robinson Cano with a groin strain and Amed Rosario with a quad strain. Yoenis Cespedes opted out of the 2020 MLB season over the weekend.

The Nationals are still without Stephen Strasburg, who has yet to make his season debut. Strasburg was scratched from his first start because of a nerve impingement in his right wrist. He's back to throwing off a mound but is still unlikely to pitch for the Nats until at least the weekend. At minimum, Strasburg will end up missing two turns through the rotation, which in a 60-game season represents one-sixth of the starts.

Reliever Will Harris, whom the Nats signed away from the Astros after beating them in the 2019 World Series, is on the IL with a groin strain. Two other Nats, Howie Kendrick and Eric Thames, are dealing with back injuries.

Is it a coincidence to see these sorts of injuries early in the everyday grind of Major League Baseball after so much time off and an unconventional ramp-up period? No, probably not.

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Phillies Talk podcast: Any early solutions for Phils' pitching staff?

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Phillies Talk podcast: Any early solutions for Phils' pitching staff?

Are there any early-season solutions to the Phillies' already glaring bullpen issue? Jim Salisbury and Corey Seidman discussed that and more on the Phillies Talk podcast.

• Close deficits turning into insurmountable ones for the Phils.

• Is there anyone at Lehigh Valley Phillies can turn to for bullpen help?

• Spencer Howard time? How will Phils set up their pitching this week with the doubleheader?

• NL East already shaken up drastically by injuries and schedule changes.

• What Rhys Hoskins needs to work his way through.

• Could we soon see lineup changes if Phillies don't hit with RISP?

• Yankees could be a real threat for J.T. Realmuto.

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