Phillies

Victor Arano loses spot in Phillies' bullpen, leaving door open for a different arm

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Victor Arano loses spot in Phillies' bullpen, leaving door open for a different arm

Updated: 8:23 p.m.

BRADENTON, Fla. — Victor Arano was an important member of the Phillies’ bullpen last season. He recorded a 2.73 ERA in 60 games. He struck out 60 batters, walked 17 and gave up just six homers in 59 1/3 innings. 

The previous year, he came up from the minors for a look and gave up just two runs in 10 2/3 innings.

That's a 2.57 ERA in his first 70 big-league games.

In most cases, numbers like these would ensure Arano’s roster spot entering the new season.

But the 24-year-old right-hander struggled so badly this spring that Phillies officials decided Saturday night to option Arano to Triple A Lehigh Valley along with right-hander Yacksel Rios.

“We weigh track record heavily and lean on it pretty strongly,” manager Gabe Kapler said Saturday before the decision came down. “However, without an indication that he’s feeling confident, it’s something to examine closely. You can discount one, two, three outings. It’s hard to discount five or six outings of struggle, consecutively.”

Arano pitched two-thirds of an inning in Saturday’s 5-3 loss to the Pirates. He gave up a hit, a walk and a run. In four innings of work this spring, he has given up 20 runs. He has been tagged for 17 hits, including four homers.

“By every account, he was outstanding for us the last two years, one of our higher-leverage relievers, a guy we depended on in the biggest situations,” Kapler said after the game. “You still also have to pay close attention to what is happening right in front of you and we’ve seen several outings in a row that are worth really digging into to find out how we can help him.

“I think it’s cause to really dig on what’s happening for him both mentally and mechanically. I think he’s absolutely fine from a physical perspective. His legs are underneath him. He’s strong. I think his arm speed is fine.

“But you know, today the ball didn’t come out great. It’s worth having a conversation with him and really discussing what he needs to get back on track because at this point it hasn’t been very effective and I think he knows that. If he was standing next to me right now, he would tell you there’s a better performance in there.”

Through a translator, Arano indicated that his struggles are mechanical. He said he is struggling to find the release point on his slider, which was an excellent pitch for him last season.

Arano had pitched on back-to-back days — he gave up a homer to Giancarlo Stanton of the Yankees on Friday night. The Phils play their final two games in Florida on Sunday and Monday. The club knew before then that Arano will have to clean up his mechanical problems and build some confidence in the minors before getting back to Philadelphia.

The Phillies open the season on Thursday.

Right now, these seven relievers look set in the bullpen:

Hector Neris (R)

David Robertson (R)

Seranthony Dominguez (R)

Pat Neshek (R)

Juan Nicasio (R)

Adam Morgan (L)

Jose Alvarez (L)

With Arano and Rios failing to make the club, a spot looks open for Edubray Ramos as the eighth reliever.

The Phils could also use Vince Velasquez out of the bullpen for the first week of the season. 

Tommy Hunter will open on the injured list.

We’ll know in a few days how the bullpen fully shakes out. Unfortunately for Arano, he had made some final decisions easy for club officials.

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Joe Girardi doesn't see penalty for Astros players as a deterrent

Joe Girardi doesn't see penalty for Astros players as a deterrent

The calls for Astros players to get suspended have gotten louder and louder as players have descended upon Florida and Arizona for spring training this past week. From Cody Bellinger to Mike Trout to Trevor Bauer to Nick Markakis and everywhere in between, players have made clear how angry they are about Houston's cheating scandal. 

It's going to take a long time for Astros players to gain back the respect of their peers.

It's not some easy fix, though. Astros players were granted immunity from discipline in order for their cooperation in MLB's investigation. MLB cannot, after the fact, revoke that immunity and decide to suspend players knowing what it now knows. That would never fly, and it shouldn't. Whether immunity should have been granted in the first place is the big question, but that point has passed.

Joe Girardi was asked on ESPN's Golic and Wingo Show Wednesday whether he thought MLB's punishment was sufficient.

The Phillies' first-year skipper doesn't think the current punishment serves as much of a deterrent.

"There are some people that lost their jobs that really were the people that had to pay for it, but there were a lot more people involved," Girardi said. "The financial gain for the players is substantial if they have big seasons because of this, so if there's no punishment for them, I'm not sure that it stops. I'm really not sure. Because the financial gain, similar to the steroid era, is very similar. If you know it's coming and you have a big year and you're a free agent, there's a lot (of money) to be made there and players want to take care of their families.

"I'm not exactly sure what the right answer is, but I don't know how much of a deterrent it is for players right now. There's not a huge deterrent for the players and I think there has to be to make sure that it stops."

People made fun of commissioner Rob Manfred for saying this but it should be acknowledged that the public ridicule the Astros are feeling right now will actually serve as some sort of deterrent. That doesn't mean MLB made the right call, that their decision-making process has been sound or that Manfred has done himself any favors publicly. But the disrespect factor around the league and around the country is real. Guys like Alex Bregman, Jose Altuve, George Springer, even a Justin Verlander — will they ever again command the respect they did before this? This is a permanent stain.

MLB recognized how difficult an investigation would have been without cooperation from key figures and went the route of immunity. It's a decision that will be questioned for years.

"If you're not in the clubhouse and you don't admit yourself that you did it, how do you take the word from another player that he was doing it? That's the hard part," Girardi said. "Like, if you get caught with something on your body, that to me definitely should be a suspension and a huge fine. But to say that someone was using it, it's his word against his word, that's pretty tough to penalize a player."

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A small step in Phillies camp for pitching prospect Spencer Howard

A small step in Phillies camp for pitching prospect Spencer Howard

CLEARWATER, Fla. — Spencer Howard, the Phillies' top pitching prospect, returned to a bullpen mound Wednesday and threw 27 pitches.

Ordinarily, a bullpen session in spring training is not news, but Howard had temporarily stopped his bullpen work after sustaining a minor knee injury — manager Joe Girardi called it a "tweak" — 10 days earlier.

Howard threw all of his pitches during the bullpen session as a gaggle of fans watched at Carpenter Complex.

"I only saw two pitches," said Girardi, who was busy bouncing around four fields. "But he felt great. That's the important thing."

Girardi said there was no timetable for when Howard would pitch in a Grapefruit League game. The Phillies are on record as saying they will take things slowly with Howard in the early part of the season. The 23-year-old right-hander is on an innings/workload limit this season and the Phillies would like to get a good chunk of those innings in the big leagues.

"Spencer has an innings limit so we have to think about this because we believe at some point he's going to play a role for us," Girardi said earlier in camp. "We can't go wear him out by June so we have to think about that. We're not going to waste a lot of innings in spring training."

It's possible that the Phillies could hold Howard back in extended spring training in the month of April so they can maximize his innings later in the season.

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