Phillies

Who gets bumped from Phillies' rotation for Jason Vargas? Which direction will they turn next?

Who gets bumped from Phillies' rotation for Jason Vargas? Which direction will they turn next?

The Phillies have one quality start since June 30 by a pitcher other than Aaron Nola.

Jason Vargas has six quality starts in his last 11.

The evaluation of Monday's trade can probably end there.

Vargas is a Phillie and will make his debut Friday or Saturday at home against the White Sox, a team he's familiar with from pitching in the American League from 2009-17.

In 2013, Vargas overlapped with Phillies GM Matt Klentak in Anaheim. Klentak was the Angels' assistant general manager. 

That familiarity made Klentak comfortable with Vargas the person. He said he was shocked when Vargas had the incident with a New York reporter in June, the incident in which Vargas said to Newsday's Tim Healy, "I'll knock you the f--- out, bro." 

Klentak was surprised that Vargas of all people was involved in the kerfuffle.

"That was so out of character for Jason Vargas to be caught up in anything like that," Klentak said. "It's just not who he is. He's not an overbearing personality at all like that. He's very popular in the clubhouse with everybody, very likable. 

"We did ask a lot of questions and learn a lot about that. ... I think that was an isolated episode that created a lot of buzz, including here, but I don't think that was a reflection of who Jason Vargas is at all. I think it's quite the opposite."

Who gets bumped from the rotation?

The Phillies do not yet have an answer. Because Vargas will not start until Friday or Saturday, they can take a few more days to make the decision.

There are three different options. 

• Vince Velasquez could be moved back to the bullpen, which would give the Phillies two hard-throwing relievers to use in high-leverage situations as Nick Pivetta has transitioned to that role. 

"I don't want to overstate what we saw in his recent two outings but g--damn, he looked good," Klentak said of the short look at Pivetta as a reliever.

• Zach Eflin, who has allowed 32 runs in his last 26⅔ innings, has spoken lately of fatigue and is nearing his career-high in innings, could lose the spot temporarily.

• Then there's Jake Arrieta, who has stayed in the rotation despite a painful bone spur in his right elbow because the Phillies have lacked better options.

"We're going to consider everything," Klentak said. "Somebody could be optioned, somebody could be moved to the bullpen, someone could piggy-back.

"Whoever ends up falling out of the rotation may end up helping us in the 'pen or in a different role. There's a ripple effect to a transaction like this."

Arrieta and Eflin would make for an interesting piggy-back, potentially preserving the arms of both. The Phillies could start Arrieta and pull him after four innings, the threshold at which he's lost velocity in recent starts.

This can't be it, right?

It seems very unlikely the Phillies are finished making moves. Remember, no more August trades. You have to acquire your depth now or risk not having it the final two months in the case of an injury. 

They could still pick up another reliever, another starter, another outfielder, another bat or two for the bench. 

"We're still going to be open-minded about ways to improve our club over the next two days," Klentak said. "I think [the rotation] was the most pressing area to address. If opportunities present themselves in the next two days, I know we'll have the support of ownership to pursue them."

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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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