I wasn’t going to write about Orion Kerkering, but it’s hard not to. In his electric debut on Sunday night’s victory over the Mets, Kerkering provided the Phillies’ bullpen exactly what it needed: a breath of fresh air. With an absolutely devastating slider that averaged just over 16 inches of horizontal break and a sinker that ran up to 100mph, Kerkering’s stuff speaks for itself. Not to mention his seemingly backwards approach – he attacked the three left-handed batters primarily with his slider, of which he threw 10, the pitch functioning as more of a power-cutter in the mid-to-high 80s than traditional sweeping breaking ball. He threw his fastball just twice.
Will Kerkering crack the postseason roster? It’s hard to tell, but the next six rain-soaked games against the Pirates and the Mets likely will be the deciding factor if Kerkering is to make it. Yes, he has only pitched one inning – but the question of him making the roster is almost less about if he makes or not, rather than the fact that it’s up for discussion. The thing is that while the Phillies may have a lot of arms, not all of them have been up to snuff – especially as of late.
Right now, there are 13 spots open for pitchers on the postseason roster. Nine of them will almost assuredly be their top three starters – Zack Wheeler, Aaron Nola, and Ranger Suarez – along with their six marquee relievers – Craig Kimbrel, Jose Alvarado, Jeff Hoffman, Matt Strahm, and the frustrating yet undeniably talented Seranthony Dominguez. That leaves four spots open for lower-leverage relievers/long-men/spot-starters. The candidates: Taijuan Walker, Christopher Sanchez, Michael Lorenzen, Dylan Covey and 40-man roster members Andrew Bellati, Yunior Marte, Luis Ortiz, and Kerkering.
With the 26-man postseason roster eligible for change prior to each round, the pitchers that the Phillies roll out for the Wildcard Series could be different than those who join the team for the NLDS – given the Phillies advance that far. The starting pitching for the Wild Card round seems pretty self evident: Wheeler and Nola will start the first two games, with Suarez starting the third if need be. Walker and Sanchez will likely both make the roster – although they are more “break in case of emergency” long relievers with Sanchez likely being the better option out of the ‘pen, Walker was signed by Dombrowski to pitch the fourth game of a playoff series if need be.
That leaves two spots left for long-men/low-leverage relievers. While Lorenzen and Kerkering are not locks for these spots, the next six games will likely be the deciding factor on if they make the postseason roster or not. Lorenzen, who has fallen vastly out of favor as a starter since his no-hit bid in August needs to prove that he can be a viable option out of the ‘pen. While Lorenzen is no stranger to the bullpen, he notched his first save of the year last week, his identity as a pitcher provides cause for concern. Lorenzen tends to struggle with his command and while he has a lot of pitches, seven total, he doesn’t overpower hitters. This makes it potentially dangerous for Lorenzen to come into the game with runners on base – he is much more of the settle in and progress through the game, than a decisive quick outs pitcher. At least from what we’ve seen so far. Even when Lorenzen has been given a clean inning, like when he entered the 5th inning of September 19th’s matchup with the Braves, he struggled again with his command: he went got just one out in 37 pitches, walking three and allowing three hits to the tune of four earned runs, effectively taking the Phillies out of the game. Although Lorenzen has had flashes of brilliance, he must prove himself in these next six games if he wants to continue to be on the team come October.
That leaves us with Kerkering. As intriguing a prospect as he is, we still have only seen one inning of work from the young right-hander. If Kerkering squanders multiple chances in these next six games, then he’ll be off the roster no questions asked. But if Kerkering impresses and does just enough, he could provide the Phillies ‘pen with a much needed kick in the rear. It’s no secret that the bullpen has struggled as of late. Kimbrel has looked tired, Alvarado has been better but not as good as we’ve seen him, Soto and Dominguez have continued to be unreliable. The Phillies need someone to step up in the bullpen. Who knows? Maybe Kerkering could be the guy.