Phillies

Tuesday night was the NL East in a nutshell

Tuesday night was the NL East in a nutshell

As has been the case much of the season, Tuesday night was not a good one for NL East bullpens. 

All five teams blew a save and three lost in walk-off fashion (Phillies, Braves, Nationals).

For the Mets, Nationals and Braves, it continued a season-long theme of unreliable late relief. The Mets and Nationals have had trouble bridging the gap between their starting pitchers and their elite closers, Edwin Diaz and Sean Doolittle. The setup work has been mostly terrible, with Jeurys Familia struggling in that role for New York and Kyle Barraclough and Wander Suero pitching ineffectively for Washington.

The Phillies, despite injuries to David Robertson, Tommy Hunter, Victor Arano and Edubray Ramos, have statistically one of the better bullpens in baseball. The Phils' bullpen has a 3.84 ERA, third-best in the National League and eighth-best in the majors.

The Nationals' bullpen has a 6.61 ERA, worst in MLB. The Marlins (5.13) rank 26th. The Braves (4.59) are 23rd. The Mets (4.41) are 20th.

Atlanta has not been able to figure out a closing formula. Arodys Vizcaino was the incumbent but he is out for the season with a shoulder injury and was traded to Seattle along with Jesse Biddle for veteran reliever Anthony Swarzak late last week. Luke Jackson had gotten the nod as the Braves' closer but has blown four saves after a strong start. The Braves seem likely to turn to left-hander and former starter Sean Newcomb in that role after several effective outings in relief.

The possibility of Craig Kimbrel also looms. At this point, it's a near lock that Kimbrel will not be signed before the June 3 draft because the signing team will want to avoid forfeiting an early pick for which they've been preparing. All four NL East contenders will be among the teams vying for Kimbrel's services, with the Braves and Phillies more likely to sign him than the Mets or Nats. A reunion in Atlanta just makes too much sense for all parties. (That's where my money would go.)

The Phils last night played with one hand tied behind their back as their top four relievers — Hector Neris, Pat Neshek, Adam Morgan and Seranthony Dominguez — were all unavailable (see story). They'll look for a better result tonight and won't need to turn to Juan Nicasio to protect a ninth-inning lead if they have one.

Neris has been a major reason the Phillies have been able to maintain their first-place standing in the NL East. In 20⅓ innings, he has a 1.77 ERA and 0.89 WHIP with 27 strikeouts and just six walks. 

Neris has made 40 appearances since he was called back up to the majors last Aug. 15. In those 40 appearances, he has a 1.89 ERA with 62 strikeouts in 38 innings. His opponents have hit just .170, going 23 for 135 with two home runs.

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Phillies’ big signing Zack Wheeler to make his spring debut Saturday

Phillies’ big signing Zack Wheeler to make his spring debut Saturday

CLEARWATER, Fla. — Zack Wheeler will make his spring debut for the Phillies on Saturday afternoon against the Toronto Blue Jays in Dunedin.

Wheeler is expected to go two innings or 35 pitches.

The right-hander signed a five-year, $118 million deal with the Phillies in December.

“He’s ready to go and I’m anxious to watch him pitch,” manager Joe Girardi said. “I’ve never sat this close to him before.”

Wheeler is the last of the Phillies’ starters to debut this spring. Nick Pivetta and Aaron Nola have already made two starts.

“It’s just the way we just set up his program,” Girardi said of Wheeler’s schedule. “He threw batting practice and stuff, simulated stuff. It’s just where he’s at.”

Girardi has not announced his opening day starter, but Nola, who pitched Friday, is presumed to be the guy. Wheeler appears to slot in second followed by Jake Arrieta and Zach Eflin, though this is all subject to change.

The fifth starter’s spot is up for grabs between Pivetta, Vince Velasquez and Ranger Suarez.

Suarez gets the start in Sunday’s Grapefruit League game against Baltimore in Clearwater. Arrieta and Seranthony Dominguez will get work in an intrasquad game at the minor-league complex.

Eflin is slated to pitch Monday night against Atlanta.

Nola pitched two-plus innings and threw 45 pitches in a 6-5 win over the Braves on Friday. He gave up six hits and two runs. He walked none and struck out six.

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Phillies leadoff man Andrew McCutchen out for opening day

Phillies leadoff man Andrew McCutchen out for opening day

CLEARWATER, Fla. — The knee injury that cost Andrew McCutchen four months last season will cost him more time this season.

McCutchen, who had surgery to repair a torn ACL in his left knee on June 14, will open the season on the injured list, Phillies manager Joe Girardi announced on Friday afternoon.

Girardi's announcement came less than two weeks after McCutchen said it was his "plan" to be ready for opening day.

According to Girardi, McCutchen did not experience a setback and the club hopes to have him back sometime in April.

"The tests continue to improve," Girardi said. "He has made improvements as we've gone along. He continues to get better.

"But as we start to put it together, there's some things, some hurdles that he still has to clear, like cutting. We've seen him out there taking fly balls, we've seen him taking batting practice. But we haven't seen him run full speed.

"Opening day is awful early. It's March 26. I think that had he been ready for opening day it would have been pretty quick. He would have been on the short end of the rehab scale. But we don't expect it to be a real long time. Our thought process is we will get him sometime in April. If it was a normal year, the season used to start April 4th or 5th. But with a high-end athlete like him, he's just not quite ready to go."

McCutchen had already left the ballpark when Girardi made the announcement so he was not available for comment.

The news on McCutchen was not a complete surprise. Less than a month before opening day, he had yet to play in an exhibition game and had shown a limp in supervised outfield drills.

McCutchen's situation creates some camp competition as the Phillies look to fill his spot in left field. It's possible that Adam Haseley and Roman Quinn could both be in the opening day outfield, either in left field or center field. It's also possible that Jay Bruce could play some left field, though he's had elbow issues that impact his throwing. The Phils have two other outfielders, Nick Williams and Kyle Garlick, on the 40-man roster, and there are a host of non-roster players in camp who can play the outfield, including Josh Harrison, Phil Gosselin, Mikie Mahtook, Logan Forsythe, Nick Martini and Neil Walker.

The Phils will also have to fill McCutchen's leadoff spot. Quinn would seem to be a good bet there. Losing McCutchen from the leadoff spot was a huge blow to the Phils last season. He had a .378 on-base percentage, second-best in the majors among leadoff men, when he went down on June 3. Phillies leadoff men had a paltry .295 on-base percentage the rest of the season and that ranked 29th in baseball over that span.

McCutchen, 33, is signed through 2021 as part of a three-year, $50 million contract signed before the 2019 season. 

With McCutchen out, the Phillies will have a different opening day left fielder for the 10th time in as many years.

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