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Phillies' pitching plans with Spencer Howard ready to put heat on Vince Velasquez

Phillies' pitching plans with Spencer Howard ready to put heat on Vince Velasquez

The Phillies made a slight adjustment to their pitching rotation after Friday night's rainout.

Jake Arrieta will stay on his regular fifth day and pitch Saturday night in what now is the first game of a four-game series against the Atlanta Braves at Citizens Bank Park.

Vince Velasquez, who had been scheduled to start Friday night, will move back and start one of the games in Sunday afternoon's doubleheader. Top prospect Spencer Howard is expected to make his major-league debut in the other game Sunday.

"I'm not ready to make an official announcement until tomorrow, but if nothing changes, you can expect it to be Spencer Howard," Phillies manager Joe Girardi said Saturday afternoon.

It wasn't immediately clear why the Phillies flip-flopped Arrieta and Velasquez. The Braves simply moved Friday night's scheduled starter, Kyle Wright, back a day after the rainout. 

The game was called 45 minutes before first pitch and it's possible that Velasquez had already started his pre-game stretching in the clubhouse or training room. Maybe the Phillies wanted to give him a day to reboot before he went through the routine again. Maybe it's possible that they wanted to sync up he and Howard and get them on the same day to facilitate the option of having Howard take over that spot in the rotation. Or maybe it's possible that the Phillies simply decided that Velasquez, who would have gone 11 days between starts had he pitched on Friday, could handle a couple more days. Long periods between starts can hurt a pitcher's effectiveness. With Arrieta pitching Saturday night, the Phils now have the chance to get four of their five starters on a five-day schedule.

Arrieta made his first start in nearly a year Monday night at Yankee Stadium. He pitched five innings and allowed three runs, two on a pair of homers. Arrieta walked none and struck out four. The right-hander believed the start was something to build on. Zack Wheeler, Aaron Nola and Zach Eflin also turned in starts that ranged from promising to excellent this week so the rotation is at least showing some signs of coming together.

Velasquez remains a different story. The enigmatic right-hander made a terrific showing in summer camp then blew a 4-0 lead in his first start on July 26 and lasted just three innings in a loss to Miami.

On the surface, especially with Howard coming, the leash does not appear to be very long on Velasquez. But, remember this: After Sunday's doubleheader, the Phillies still have five more doubleheaders to play before the 60-game schedule is complete so they're going to need at least six starters for a good chunk of the rest of the season. It would greatly behoove the Phillies if Velasquez and Howard were capable of delivering quality starts.

Friday night's quick postponement caused consternation with some fans who were looking forward to cracking a brew, lighting a cigar and watching the Phils. In ordinary times, Major League Baseball and the Phillies would have waited out the rain and started the game late. But COVID-19 protocols called for a quick postponement. For reasons of social distancing, MLB does not want large groups of players and staff congregating in clubhouses and dugouts for long periods of time. So the game was postponed quickly and everyone was sent home.

MLB's sensitivity to avoiding long rain delays became heightened last week when Chicago Cubs first baseman Anthony Rizzo took to Twitter to chastise the Cincinnati Reds for having a long delay before a game that was eventually postponed.

Sunday's doubleheader will be seven innings. That's also part of the COVID protocol. At the moment, 14 of the Phillies' 60 games (23 percent) will come in doubleheaders.

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Phillies schedule: Phils-Braves postponed because of inclement weather, doubleheader Sunday

Phillies schedule: Phils-Braves postponed because of inclement weather, doubleheader Sunday

Friday night's series opener between the Phillies and Atlanta Braves at Citizens Bank Park has been rained out.

It was a "quick bang" as they say in the baseball business, no waiting around for the bad weather to clear out. That's part of the health and safety protocol for the COVID-impacted 2020 season. Major League Baseball does not want players and staff sitting around for long periods of time in enclosed areas like a clubhouse.

The postponement will be made up as part of a doubleheader Sunday afternoon at 1:05 p.m. Game 2 begins 40 minutes after Game 1 ends. The Phillies have 53 games remaining on their schedule and six of them will be played as part of doubleheaders. They already played a doubleheader Wednesday night, splitting with the New York Yankees.

Jake Arrieta will start for the Phillies Saturday against the Braves. Vince Velasquez will start one of the games of the doubleheader Sunday. The starter for the other game is still TBA. The Phils could promote prospect Spencer Howard to make the start. More on that as it becomes available.

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Joe Girardi hints at Spencer Howard making his Phillies debut Sunday

Joe Girardi hints at Spencer Howard making his Phillies debut Sunday

Joe Girardi has not yet named a starting pitcher for Sunday's game against the Atlanta Braves, but he's dropping hints.

"TBA," he said with a grin before Thursday's game against the Yankees. "Stay tuned. There's a guy we could use in a lot of different roles."

That guy could very well be top pitching prospect Spencer Howard.

The Phillies have long envisioned the 24-year-old right-hander making an impact in the big leagues this season. That time could come Sunday. The Phillies need a starter after using both Zack Wheeler and Aaron Nola in a doubleheader on Wednesday.

When Howard comes up, he will likely stay. He is not the type of talent that gets yo-yoed back and forth between Triple A, or the satellite camp, as it is called this season. It remains to be seen, however, in what role Howard will make the most impact this season. Though his future is clearly as a starter, the Phillies have discussed using him as a reliever who can pitch multiple high-leverage innings.

Ultimately, Howard will determine the role in which he pitches. If he gets Sunday's start and pitches well, it would be difficult to imagine him not getting another start. Down the road in this 60-game season, the doubleheaders will stack up on the Phillies and they'll actually need more than five starters.

Howard received high praise from a couple of Phillies on Thursday. Jean Segura faced Howard several times during summer camp and raved about his electric fastball and how it got on right-handed hitters quickly. Relief pitcher Tommy Hunter has been equally impressed. In fact, when told that Howard was a candidate to start on Sunday, Hunter said, "Yay."

Hunter added: "He's really good. He's a special talent. I've gotten to see him pitch a few times. He's a good kid who has a lot of talent. It'll be fun to see him put that on display."

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