Oh how history repeats itself. As we close in on the Ides of March, the great Philadelphia Phillies empire is seemingly circling the drain. Top prospect Andrew Painter has already suffered a sprained UCL in his right elbow (yes, the important one), Noah Song has been stabbed in the back like Julius Caesar (OK back spasms, but still), and venerated left-hander Ranger Suarez has been sidelined with forearm tightness. What has become of this once great team?
Well, not much aside from a rash of early spring injuries. The Phillies, in all their power, are still likely to be a very, very good team even with the unfortunate injuries to Painter, Suarez, and Song, in descending order of importance. Instead of perseverating over what this means for the starting rotation, however, let’s take a look into a much brighter topic: the bullpen.
Last Thursday, All-Star reliever Gregory Soto finally landed in Clearwater after struggling with Visa issues back home in the Dominican Republic. The left-handed Soto, who impressed in his first outing during Sunday’s Grapefruit League loss to the Toronto Blue Jays, joins a back end of the bullpen already loaded with both talent and velocity. Amongst Soto’s fellow flamethrowers are incumbent relievers Seranthony Dominguez and Jose Alvarado – both key pieces in the team’s run to the 2022 World Series and benefactors of contract extensions this offseason – and newcomer Craig Kimbrel…you know, just Major League Baseball’s active saves leader.
What’s exciting and intriguing about this back end bunch – which in the future could include others such as Connor Brogdon, Matt Strahm, and Andrew Bellatti – is that there are no set roles. As of right now, there is not one closer, not one setup man, and not one 7th inning guy. Now, this all could be subject to change in as little as 4-6 weeks into the regular season. But with mere weeks until Opening Day, nothing is set in stone.
While the closer and setup roles will doubtlessly shift night to night and will remain matchup dependent, as Manager Rob Thomson has repeatedly stated. Entering the year, though, I would assume that Dominguez would be allotted to that early closer role – he has the most trust built up with the coaching staff out of any relievers in the ‘pen. I would also assume that Kimbrel would slide to a more supportive role than closer – although an all time great, his stuff has waned in recent years. Look for Kimbrel to occupy the 8th inning as (hopefully) a much more elevated version of Corey Knebel. As for Soto and Alvarado, well, the two left-handers are so similar in both their pitch mix, arm slot, and velocity that they might just have to duke it out. Regardless, it’ll make for an exciting competition and a good problem for the Phillies to have during the regular season.
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