Mike Leake

Ian Desmond, Ryan Zimmerman among list of MLB players opting out of 2020 season

Ian Desmond, Ryan Zimmerman among list of MLB players opting out of 2020 season

Phillies GM Matt Klentak said Monday afternoon that as of then, no player on the Phillies' 54-man player pool had opted out of the season. 

Shortly thereafter, news broke that two Washington Nationals players, Ryan Zimmerman and Joe Ross, had opted out of the season "for the personal health and safety of themselves and their loved ones."

Arizona Diamondbacks right-hander Mike Leake and Rockies infielder/outfielder Ian Desmond also opted out. The Phillies are not slated to play either NL West team this season so it has little to no impact on them, but they do play the Nationals 10 times.

All four players are sacrificing their prorated 2020 salaries to opt out. Only players deemed high-risk for contracting COVID-19 earn full prorated pay and service time when opting out of the season.

Zimmerman has been a Nationals staple for 15 years. He's Mr. National. His role has diminished over the last two seasons, however. Zimmerman has totaled just 513 plate appearances over the last two years, hitting .261/.331/.460 with 19 homers and 78 RBI.

In a statement, Zimmerman made clear that he is not retiring and plans to try to play in 2021. An NL East lifer, Zimmerman is a career .270 hitter against the Phillies with a .799 OPS, 27 homers and 111 RBI in 197 games.

Zimmerman was slated to play some first base in a platoon with Eric Thames and also would have seen time as the Nats' DH. Without him, Washington's lineup could look like this:

1. Trea Turner, SS
2. Adam Eaton, RF
3. Howie Kendrick, DH
4. Juan Soto, LF
5. Eric Thames, 1B
6. Starlin Castro, 2B
7. Victor Robles, CF
8. Yan Gomes, C
9. Carter Kieboom, 3B

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Ross was set to battle for the Nats' fifth starter job. He's made starts for the Nationals in each of the last five seasons, posting a 4.29 ERA and 1.37 WHIP in 335⅓ innings. He made three excellent starts against the Phillies in 2016, going 2-0 with a 1.66 ERA, but a much-improved Phillies offense in 2019 lit him up in a relief appearance, scoring five runs as Ross collected just one out.

With Ross out of the mix, the Nats' likeliest fifth starter is Erick Fedde.

It is unlikely that these are the only four players who will opt out of the 2020 season. The absence of key players will provide yet another unique element to this challenging 60-game season ahead.

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More on the Phillies

Phillies-Cardinals 5 things: Running out of time to reestablish Hellickson's trade value

Phillies-Cardinals 5 things: Running out of time to reestablish Hellickson's trade value

Phillies (22-46) vs. Cardinals (31-37)
7:05 p.m. on CSN; streaming live on CSNPhilly.com and the NBC Sports App

After being swept for the eighth time this season and the fourth time in their last seven series, the Phillies were off Monday before opening a three-gamer tonight against the Cardinals.

Things have gotten out of hand for the Phils, who are on pace to lose 110 games. 

Could this week provide any sort of reprieve from the constant losing?

1. Just how bad is it?
No National League team has had a worse record than the 2017 Phillies through its first 68 games since the 2013 Marlins. 

It's rare to see the wheels fall off this dramatically and this fast in a season. 

Remember those Astros teams that lost 100-plus games three seasons in a row? 

They were three games better than the Phillies at this point in 2011, when they lost 106 games.

They were six games better than the Phillies at this point in 2012, when they lost 107.

And they were two games better than the Phillies at this point in 2013, when they lost 111.

The scary thing, at least record-wise, is that things could get even worse after the trade deadline if/when Pat Neshek and Howie Kendrick are moved. Neshek has been the Phils' best reliever and Kendrick's been their second-best position player after Aaron Altherr.

2. Hellickson's fading value
Jeremy Hellickson makes his 15th start tonight. He's 5-5 with a 4.91 ERA on the season and has already allowed 15 home runs in 77 innings.

Hellickson hasn't been able to command his changeup or fastball lately. For a pitcher who lacks strikeout stuff, that's a major problem. 

Over his last five starts, Helly is 0-4 with a 7.57 ERA. Over his last nine starts since May 1, he has a 6.89 ERA and his opponents have hit .310 with a .991 OPS.

All the good things he did in April are now a distant memory, as Hellickson's 2017 season is beginning to feel like Aaron Harang's 2015 with the Phils.

Hellickson's only quality start in his last five tries was June 9 in St. Louis when he allowed three runs on 10 hits over six innings with a season-high five strikeouts. That was also one of only two starts this season Hellickson reached 100 pitches.

Hellickson admitted after his last start that when a team is losing as often as the Phillies are, the starting pitchers inevitably take it upon themselves to try to be perfect. And we all know what usually happens when a pitcher tries to be too fine.

Current Cardinals have hit .258 off Hellickson in 62 at-bats. Shortstop Aledmys Diaz is 3 for 5 with a double and two homers. Matt Carpenter is 3 for 7 with a double and three walks. All other Cards are 10 for 50.

3. Who closes?
It hasn't mattered much lately who the Phillies' closer is. Hector Neris' blown save Sunday against Arizona was just his third save opportunity in the Phillies' last 46 games.

The Phils have cycled through four closers already this season in Jeanmar Gomez, Joaquin Benoit, Neris and for a few days Neshek. But Neshek feels most comfortable setting up and he'll likely be here only another five weeks. Neris is theoretically a part of the Phillies' future so it does make sense to continue running him out there in the ninth inning.

But it's clear that Neris just is not the same pitcher he was in 2016. His opponents have hit .246 against his splitter after hitting .158 last season. 

"His splitter is hot and cold," manager Pete Mackanin said. "For every two good ones he throws, he throws two bad ones. It's hard to figure out what he's doing."

It doesn't matter much in 2017, but it matters for the future because in Neris, the Phillies thought they had a shutdown reliever with a chance to be a closer. Now they don't know what they have.

4. Leake's best year
The Phillies face Cardinals right-hander Mike Leake, who is enjoying the best season of his eight-year career (time flies). Through 13 starts, Leake is 5-6 with a 3.14 ERA and 1.09 WHIP.

It's a far cry from what he gave St. Louis last season in the first year of his five-year, $80 million contract. He had a 4.69 ERA and 1.32 WHIP last season and his opponents hit .288, 46 points higher than they've hit this season.

Leake doesn't do anything fancy. He's a sinker-cutter pitcher who also incorporates a slider, curveball and changeup. Nothing is much harder than 91 mph. 

He likes to jam hitters with the cutter, a pitch that's held his opponents to a .143 batting average in 98 at-bats this season. 

Leake's groundball rate of 54.9 percent is the highest of his career and fifth-highest in the National League.

The Phillies did not face Leake in St. Louis earlier this month but they've seen plenty of him over the years. In 10 starts against them, he's 3-3 with a 5.40 ERA. 

Maikel Franco has hit him the best, going 5 for 9 with a double and two walks. Kendrick is 3 for 5. Michael Saunders is 1 for 1 with a two-run homer. Odubel Herrera is 3 for 12 with a double and a long ball himself.

5. This and that
• Neshek has allowed two runs in 27 innings. The only other pitcher in the majors this season to allow two runs or less in 20-plus innings is the Yankees' Dellin Betances (two runs in 21 2/3 innings).

• Aside from their three-game sweep of the Phillies June 9-11, the Cardinals have lost 12 of 14.

• St. Louis is 13-19 on the road; the Phillies are 13-18 at home.

• The Phillies' 27 one-run games are four more than any other team has played. They're 10-17 in them. 

Today's Lineup: Ryan Howard playing vs. starter he's historically had success against

Today's Lineup: Ryan Howard playing vs. starter he's historically had success against

The Ryan Howard situation has been a tricky one for Phillies manager Pete Mackanin. And that was true even before Howard's bat caught fire in August, which has made the situation that much trickier for Mackanin, who has carefully had to juggle starts at first for both Howard and rookie Tommy Joseph.

But Sunday's decision was as close to a no-brainer as can be.

Howard gets the starting nod in the cleanup spot for Sunday's series finale against the Cardinals (see game notes) and starter Mike Leake, whom Howard has had tremendous success against over the last several seasons.

Howard is 8 for 23 lifetime vs Leake with three homers and eight RBIs. The Big Piece took Leake deep earlier this season during a 5-4 Phillies win in St. Louis on May 4.

Since the All-Star break, Howard is batting .345 with seven dingers and 16 RBIs. For the season, he's got 19 home runs and 43 RBIs.

As for other notes from Sunday's Phillies lineup, Carlos Ruiz is back catching and batting fifth and Odubel Herrera will bat sixth.

Both teams' lineups for Sunday's series finale can be found below:

1. Cesar Hernandez 2B
2. Aaron Altherr LF
3. Maikel Franco 3B
4. Ryan Howard 1B
5. Carlos Ruiz C
6. Odubel Herrera CF
7. Freddy Galvis 2B
8. Peter Bourjos RF
9. Vince Velasquez SP

1. Greg Garcia SS
2. Stephen Piscotty RF
3. Matt Carpenter 1B
4. Brandon Moss LF
5. Yadier Molina C
6. Jhonny Peralta 3B
7. Jedd Gyorko 2B
8. Randal Grichuk CF
9. Mike Leake SP