Aaron Altherr

Phillies place Vince Velasquez on injured list with right forearm strain

Phillies place Vince Velasquez on injured list with right forearm strain

In a surprise move, the Phillies placed Vince Velasquez on the 10-day injured list Saturday with a right forearm strain.

The injury could soon open the door for Nick Pivetta’s return to the majors, but more immediately, left-hander Cole Irvin will replace Velasquez on Sunday against the Royals. It will be Irvin's major-league debut after a dominant run at Triple A.

Since the start of last season, Irvin is 16-4 with a 2.51 ERA for the IronPigs despite a low rate of strikeouts.

Pivetta, meanwhile, has found a groove at Triple A Lehigh Valley, pitching to a 2.84 ERA over his last three starts with 25 strikeouts in 19 innings and a .156 opponents’ batting average.

Velasquez was fighting to keep his rotation spot. He has struggled of late. He had a 1.99 ERA in his first four starts but allowed 18 base runners, four home runs and eight runs in 7⅔ innings over his last two starts. The same old issues popped back up — poor fastball command, a deliberate pace, and in his most recent start a game-calling conflict with catcher J.T. Realmuto.

In exactly 75 starts as a Phillie, Velasquez has a 4.57 ERA and the highest home run rate (1.4 per nine innings) among any Phillies pitcher who’s ever made that many starts.

The Phillies called up left-handed reliever Austin Davis to replace Velasquez on the active roster. Pivetta last pitched on May 9 so he wouldn’t be on regular rest until Tuesday.

In another Phillies-related roster move, the Giants claimed outfielder Aaron Altherr off waivers. They've held interest in him for a little while and have one of the worst outfield situations in the majors. Altherr should have more of a role there than he did here.

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Recently cut outfielders Matt Kemp, Gerardo Parra could boost Phillies' bench

Recently cut outfielders Matt Kemp, Gerardo Parra could boost Phillies' bench

The Phillies' bench has not been a strong suit early in the season. Sure, players like Phil Gosselin and Sean Rodriguez have filled in capably during the Phils' early-season rash of injuries, but the team hasn't gotten much from its pinch-hitters.

Phillies pinch-hitters are 9 for 56 this season, hitting .161 with three extra-base hits (all doubles), two walks and 19 strikeouts.

On Saturday, the Phillies designated outfielder Aaron Altherr for assignment to make room for Odubel Herrera's return to the active roster (see story).

Herrera is not in Saturday night's starting lineup against Nationals lefty Patrick Corbin, but once he returns, the bench will consist of Nick Williams, Gosselin, Rodriguez and Andrew Knapp. 

There's versatility in that group but not much offense aside from Williams. Two veteran outfielders who could provide more of an offensive spark were let go by their teams this week and both could help the Phillies.

Gerardo Parra was designated for assignment Friday by the Giants after a slow start. He was hitting just .198 but has a long track record as a solid fourth outfielder. From 2015-18, the left-handed hitting Parra hit .285/.323/.422 with an average of 33 doubles per 162 games.

Parra is also an excellent defensive outfielder, a two-time Gold Glover who could provide value as a late-game defensive replacement. He also has experience playing first base.

The Cincinnati Reds, meanwhile, released Matt Kemp Saturday after a similarly slow start. Kemp is an aggressive hitter who swings and misses a lot and doesn't walk much, which doesn't exactly fit in with the Phillies' style. 

But he does have power from the right side, and it's not as if he's completely lost it. Just last season, Kemp was an All-Star for the Dodgers, hitting .290 with 21 homers, 85 RBI and an .818 OPS in a resurgent season.

Kemp is currently on the injured list with a broken rib but should be ready to go sometime this month. Where he'd be most valuable to a team like the Phillies is as a pinch-hitter against lefties late in games. Kemp is a career .314 hitter against lefties and last season slugged .508 against southpaws with 11 home runs. 

The Phillies, over the last two seasons, have had a tendency to carry four bench bats and eight relievers. If they decide at some point that the extra bat could help more, or that additional offense is more important than carrying both Rodriguez and Gosselin, these outfielders could help in an inexpensive way. 

Parra, in particular, is the type of bench piece you often see on contending teams, a guy who has professional at-bats and experience in every type of situation.

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Phillies cut Aaron Altherr loose to make room for Odubel Herrera

Phillies cut Aaron Altherr loose to make room for Odubel Herrera

The Phillies activated centerfielder Odubel Herrera from the injured list on Saturday. To make room for Herrera, the Phillies cut loose a longtime member of the organization, outfielder Aaron Altherr.

Altherr, 28, was drafted by the Phillies in 2009 and first made it to the majors with the club in 2014. A gifted athlete blessed with a strong collection of tools, Altherr had trouble finding consistency over the years and the Phillies reached the point where they felt they had better options off their bench.

“He got a pretty good chunk of playing time last year and wasn’t as productive as his ability suggests he can be,” manager Gabe Kapler said. “We just couldn’t get Aaron going and we needed somebody who … Let’s just say it was difficult to find him reps and the other guys were doing a really good job. It’s as simple as that.”

In 29 at-bats this season, Altherr had just one hit and nine strikeouts.

Altherr was technically designated for assignment. The Phillies have seven days in which to dispose of his contract. It would not be surprising to see him traded. There are clubs that like his skills and one might be interested in acquiring him, though the return likely would not be significant. If Altherr is not traded, he could be placed on waivers and claimed by another club. If he clears waivers, he could conceivably remain in the organization and go to Triple A, where he'd continue to collect his $1.35 million salary, or choose free agency and hook on with another organization.

Kapler feels comfortable with two newcomers, Sean Rodriguez and Phil Gosselin, in reserve roles. Both have given the Phils good at-bats off the bench.

Both players were in the starting lineup on Saturday night as Kapler stacked the right-handed bats against Washington lefty Patrick Corbin. Andrew McCutchen was in center field, Gosselin in left and Rodriguez at second base. Herrera, a lefty bat, did not start.

“It felt like not the softest landing spot for Odubel,” Kapler said. “You haven’t been in game action for a while and we’re going to throw you out there against last year’s best left-handed pitcher with a nasty slider. It just didn’t feel like the right recipe to start him off on the right foot. The game is not five or six innings long, it’s nine and sometimes more. So there might be a big at-bat against a right-hander pitcher that Odubel gets later in game.”

Altherr is a gifted defender and can handle center field. Kapler believes the Phils have enough depth at that position. McCutchen has shown he can still slide over there and be dependable. Rodriguez can handle the position in a pinch. Ditto for Scott Kingery, who should come off the IL before the end of May.

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