Here we are going on Day 10? 20? 100? (feels like) without Major League Baseball and any number of other things that we take for granted.
April 2nd was originally scheduled to be Opening Day at Citizens Bank Park and, as I’m looking at my tickets, I’m getting more and more dismayed. Opening Day isn’t just a ball game for me and my friends – and many Phillies fans – it’s an event.
We get to Citizens Bank Park before the gates open and ride the Ferris wheel, listen to the live band, and enjoy whatever other events are going on around the ball park. Then we head inside the park to grab a bite to eat and talk about how the year is going to go.
I’m still optimistic that there will be a 2020 MLB season and hoping that it will come sooner rather than later. That would mean the COVID-19 pandemic will have subsided and we will all be back to some semblance of normal.
Alright, that’s enough of my personal story. Let’s get to the reason why you’re here, catching up on what happened this week in Philadelphia Phillies baseball.
I just realized that before the stoppage, the Phillies were leading the spring training Grapefruit League standings with 14 wins! The team was in first place for much of the first-half of the 2019 season before struggling in June. With most of the key players back to full health, they could well prove to be a surprise contending team this year. Joe Girardi is an upgrade over previous management. His experience can be a difference-maker.
The Phillies closed their team offices at Citizens Bank Park, per Matt Breen of the Inquirer, with many employees working remotely from home. Per Breen, the club also provided fans contact information regarding tickets:
“The team provided email addresses for fans to contact if they had questions about season tickets (firstname.lastname@example.org), group tickets (email@example.com), or single-game/spring training tickets (firstname.lastname@example.org).”
The Phillies and other clubs across Major League Baseball have agreed to donate $1M to ballpark employees who will be impacted by the work stoppage. It’s a great gesture to help the hardworking people who are losing paychecks without having the games being played.
Here are some notes about the Phillies pitchers from their short time down in Clearwater:
Jake Arrieta: The team’s third starter threw 9.1 innings this spring with a 4.82 ERA, four strikeouts, and six walks. Coming off a second straight down year, Arietta’s performance is likely to prove a major key to any success the Phillies enjoy this year. He left his last start with a sore shoulder, but didn’t think it was serious. With the time off, Arrieta should be good to go once the season starts back up. The stoppage is in his favor in that regard.
Zack Wheeler: The newest Phillies starting pitcher tossed 8.1 innings with nine strikeouts and looked good during the while hitting mid-90s on his fastball. The rotation desperately needs Wheeler to stay healthy this year and fill the rotation’s two-spot behind Aaron Nola. He has a spotty record when it comes to health, but the 29-year-old Wheeler has shown that he can be a top starting pitcher when he is able to take the mound.
Ranger Suarez: Suarez looked pretty impressive in camp with a 2.25 ERA in his eight innings pitched and put himself into the discussion for the fifth starter role.The southpaw came up through the minors as a starter, topping out with 124 innings pitched during the 2018 season. It wasn’t until last year that the Phillies used him as a reliever. He appeared in 37 games out of the bullpen in 2019. Suarez performed well in the minor leagues with a 2.54 ERA over 82 games started. Still very young at 23-years of age, continued progress could solidify the left-hander a spot in the rotation for years.
Aaron Nola: The Phillies ace is looking to bounce back to 2018 Cy Young-contending levels after an average 2019 season. Nola was scratched from a start due to a stomach bug but has otherwise looked solid in his eight innings despite surrendering four runs and 13 hits. The main thing is that Nola be healthy and ready to take his place atop the rotation once the season starts.
Vince Velasquez: New year, same Velasquez: 7.2 innings, five walks, six strikeouts. He probably still leads in the race for the fifth starter role, but that is becoming more and more tenuous. He’s such a frustrating pitcher because he has all the talent in the world and the raw tools to be successful. As with many other fans, I can’t help but imagine how good he could be in a bullpen role.
Nick Pivetta: In Pivetta’s quest for that fifth starter job, he’s doing his best impression of Velasquez with 10 strikeouts and four walks over 7.2 innings. The right-hander came into 2019 with a lot of promise but went downhill quickly. Pivetta also has potential to be a great piece out of the bullpen if he doesn’t make the rotation. But it is more likely that he will be sent down to Triple-A Lehigh Valley to remain stretched out for a starting role.
Cole Irvin: The left-hander will presumably begin the year back at Triple-A, giving the Phillies some depth in case of injuries to the starters. He pitched very well in 2019 in his first two starts when after being promoted but then struggled in subsequent appearances. The Phillies moved him to the bullpen for the first time in his career and he pitched much better in that role. Irvin lacks a put-away pitch and relies more on command rather than overpowering hitters.
Spencer Howard: The prize pitching prospect of the minor league system took it slow during spring training, pitching just one inning in game action. Howard should see time at the big-league level sometime this summer. The team won’t overextend him since his career-high innings pitched is just the 112 that he tossed back in 2018. Due to injuries he tallied only 71 innings on the mound last year.
Seranthony Dominguez: Dominguez is very worried about his injury and could miss a lengthy amount of time if he doesn’t improve. In fact, at this point it would not be a surprise to find that he ultimately needs Tommy John surgery. I wrote more about the righty reliever’s situation in last week’s column. If you’d like to review it, click here.
Francisco Liriano/Bud Norris/Blake Parker/Anthony Swarzak: I lumped the veteran non-roster invitee relievers together in one group since they’re all in the same position – battling for a bullpen role without guaranteed contracts. Liriano has been the most impressive of the four with no runs surrendered in his four innings pitched. The other three each have an ERA above 7.00 in their few innings. Norris has prior closing experience, saving 28 games for St. Louis in 2018 But he didn’t pitch at all in 2019 due to a forearm strain. Parker largely struggled in his time with the Phillies last year after they signed him in July. Swarzak didn’t fare so well last year, but he did have an impressive 2018 season. Relief pitchers can be notoriously up-and-down from one season to the next. Liriano would appear to have the best chance at making the team and should provide solid innings as a left-hander out of the bullpen.
Julian Garcia/Kyle Dohy/Connor Brogdon: These three are all minor league relievers with potential to be a closer in the future. Dohy and Brogdon especially had impressive numbers last season. None of them will make the roster out of camp but they are options to help the Phillies at some point this summer.
Adonis Medina/JoJo Romero/Damon Jones/Mauricio Llovera: The four young starters all have pitched very well and impressed during their time in camp. Each will begin the season in the minor leagues, but any of them could help the rotation, if needed, as spot starters throughout the year. Medina is the highest-rated prospect of the group but has struggled with his command and confidence. Romero probably profiles more as a bullpen arm. Jones came out of nowhere to dominate at Double-A last year and is an intriguing prospect as a starter or reliever. Llovera is still growing and developing and may be the furthest away at this point.
I hope everyone enjoyed this week’s review of the most recent happenings involving our 2020 Philadelphia Phillies ball club. I look forward to any comments and feedback. Be safe and healthy out there and keep busy!
RECENT PHILADELPHIA PHILLIES AND MLB PIECES:
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- Steve Kusheloff – A man, his dad, and a radio
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- Matt Veasey – COVID19 Update: Phillies and Major League Baseball
- Ryan McElhattan – Potential positives in delay to the Phillies 2020 season
- Baseball Betsy – Strange times in Clearwater
- Sue Evans – Anticipation and Scott Kingery
- Steve Kusheloff – Are the Phillies going to fool us twice?
- Tony Spina – TWIPB: Week of March 8
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- Matt Veasey – Book review: 4th Annual Phillies Minor League Digest