Every Phillies Phan is glued to their phones, computers, or TVs watching Spring Training. Manager, Joe Girardi, announced earlier this week that candidates for the last two rotation spots are going to be pitching. Matt Moore and Vince Velasquez pitched on Thursday, March 4th and Chase Anderson and Spencer Howard pitched on Friday, March 5th. Each pitcher had one or two innings to show their stuff and what they are working towards during the offseason. 

 

The February 19th article by MLB.com regarding starting lineups, rotation, and closer gave a glimpse of what the industry projects for the starting rotation. Without a doubt, the Phillies will be sporting Aaron Nola, Zack Wheeler, and Zach Eflin as the top three in the rotation, but these four other arms are looking to snag one of those last two spots. 

 

Matt Moore dealt a stellar two innings pitched that included two strikeouts, one hit, one walk, and zero runs. Not a bad start for someone who is up for a rotation spot or even NL Comeback Player of the Year. Moore needs to be in that fourth spot in the rotation to add a lefty pitching perspective and be that much-needed southpaw the Phillies have not had since Cole Hamels. Moore has utilized his time in Japan to focus on rehabbing his injury as well as working on his pacing and precision. He sported a decent velocity fastball around 92.5 mph and 80 mph knuckle-curve which should help to deceive batters. The lack of consistency calling the game by the umpire led to a walk instead of a strikeout looking. The next at-bat led to a hit which showed a great relay from Odubel Herrera to Nick Maton on to Jeff Mathis for a great tag at home to end the second inning.  

 

The March 4th pitching relay continued with Vince Velasquez. The California native followed Moore with two lights-out innings that included no hits, no walks, and three strikeouts. He reached 94mph on his fastball, 88 mph change-up, and 81 mph knuckle-curve. The last two years of Velasquez’s career were mired in injury and inconsistency.  In his first three years in the bigs (2016-2018) he had a sub-3.00 ERA making five or six starts a season but mostly working in the long relief role. Velasquez can make it as a four or five in the rotation and provide real evidence that he can be consistent, but it likely he will be a long reliever coming out of the bullpen and making a start or two as he has before. Hopefully, the Phillies can provide double-digit runs in most games to support their pitchers.  

 

Chase Anderson loves the competition in the rotation spots and he believes he thrives on it. Anderson went two innings to start the March 5th game striking out three batters, and yielding zero walks and runs. The Texas-born righty had a great approach to the batters and worked his pitches North and South to deke batters into swinging. His fastball and sinker combination topped out around 93 mph and he occasionally threw in a 76 mph curveball to keep the batters guessing. Anderson’s performance was hovering around a 4.00 ERA during his Arizona career but was able to work with his Milwaukee pitching coach to refine his approach going forward. In his first two years in Milwaukee, he was pitched with a 3.34 avg. ERA and a WHIP that is 1.20 or lower. These are encouraging statistics to have as a starter and hopefully, his ballooned ERA and WHIP from the shortened 2020 season does not provide the full picture of his abilities in 2021. 

 

The Phillies’ top pitching prospect, Spencer Howard, made his spring debut following Anderson’s brilliant two innings. Howard pitched only one inning that included: two strikeouts, zero walks, zero hits that showed great velocity. Number 48 shined with a 96-97 mph fastball and dipped to a 77 mph curveball when necessary. However, he was worked into a full count in two at-bats because of some control issues. In 2020, Howard looked tired and nervous during his starts and seemed to carry that nervousness into this game. It is possible that his stamina and nerves led to a dip in velocity. Although, in this inning, he was able to paint the edges of the strike zone when he got his strikeout and worked his pitches East to West with his moving fastballs. Phillies Phans everywhere hope that Howard can lock in on making the rotation as that fifth starter and blossom into the prospect he is meant to be. However, Howard will not be ready for a rotation spot this spring due to being limited to one inning and working up his strength and endurance to pitch longer outings. 

 

The one inning strategy seems to be Girardi’s plan going forward with the Phillies prospects because next game Adonis Medina got the start and only pitched an inning as well. Medina is projected to start the year in Triple-A Lehigh but could make it into the rotation mid-season depending on the performance and injury situation in the rotation. Moore and Anderson are two proven starters who are ready for a comeback over a full season. Velasquez working out of the bullpen will be a key component and option for Girardi if someone is injured or starts a game poorly and can eat up innings. Howard needs to up his endurance in order to pitch at least five or six solid innings of baseball before he can slot into the rotation.

The Phillies should open up the season with a rotation and bullpen that looks like this: 

  1. Aaron Nola, RHP 
  2. Zack Wheeler, RHP
  3. Zach Eflin, RHP
  4. Matt Moore, LHP
  5. Chase Anderson, RHP

Starting Reserves in the minors: 

  1. Spencer Howard 
  2. Adonis Medina 

Bullpen: 

  1. LRP, Vince Velasquez
  2. MRP, Neftali Feliz 
  3. MRP, Brandon Kintzler 
  4. MRP, Sam Coonrod
  5. SU, Jose Alverado 
  6. SU, Archie Bradley
  7. CLS, Hector Neris 

 

The 2021 season is going to be a battle for the players and this team. The Phillies are in the toughest division in baseball. This prediction is just that, a prediction. The Phillies Opening Day Roster could change drastically depending on performance and health. The bullpen is going to be a work in progress, especially the closing role which has many options but Neris should be the go-to hurler. By the MLB Draft or trade deadline, things could look very different for The Fightin’ Phils rotation and bullpen down the stretch, but fans are going to be in for a competitive NL East.

 

Photo: Yong Kim/ The Philadelphia Inquirer

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