Injuries to Starting Pitchers Have the Phillies in a Difficult Spot


When the news broke late last week of Jerad Eickhoff’s lat strain that will reportedly keep him sidelined for the season’s first two months, I wrote:

As for his replacement, the door now opens for the slew of young arms who were competing for the final spot in the rotation prior to the Arrieta signing. Ben Lively, Mark Leiter Jr., Zach Eflin, and Tom Eshelman are the candidates.

If spring training performance is a factor, and it should be, one would think the nod will go to Leiter. The 27-year-old has posted a 1.93 ERA and 0.75 WHIP over 9.1 innings this spring, while striking out 13 batters and walking only one.

Leiter, of course, promptly took the mound Friday afternoon and was knocked around, allowing seven hits and four earned runs in only three innings of work. Making matters worse, word emerged yesterday from Clearwater that he has since flown back to Philadelphia to have his right arm examined.

It’s a tough setback for Leiter, who, at the very least, seemed a virtual lock to make the team out of spring training. Now, even in a best-case scenario, it appears unlikely that he will be with the team on Opening Day.

So now what? Will Matt Klentak be willing to pivot from his declaration last week that the Phillies are done in free agency and attempt to sign Alex Cobb? Would it be wise? It’s an idea that is now at least worth revisiting.

It’s a given that when Klentak said the team was unlikely to make any additional moves losing two starting pitchers in the immediate days after signing Jake Arrieta was not in the plans. The dynamics have quickly changed, however, and it begs the question–why would the Phillies make the significant financial investment of signing Arrieta if they aren’t going to maximize the return on it? Buying a Maserati is cool, but what good is a fancy sports car if you don’t put gas in it and just let it sit in your driveway? The value of a car depreciates the moment you drive it off the lot, and so does the value of a 32-year-old pitcher with declining velocity the moment he’s signed. If the Phillies want to win now, get the most out of Arrieta’s production, and truly believe they can make some noise in the National League, it makes sense to spend on a reinforcement that upgrades what is still, at best, an average rotation.

Here’s the catch: Cobb isn’t necessarily a significant improvement over the team’s internal options. Certainly, he isn’t an elite-level talent—Major League front offices have made that clear as he still remains without the lucrative multi-year deal he covets.

Is he a quality arm with some name recognition that would pair well behind Aaron Nola and Arrieta, bringing some stability to what projects to be volatile back-end of the rotation? Maybe. Or maybe he’s just an arm with some name recognition who will provide similar production to what the Phillies already have.

I get the sense the team views him as the latter, and you will likely hear that they want to see their young guys, and this rash of injuries is opportunity to get an extended look at them. That’s all fine and well, but again, there’s a catch. Nothing against Lively or Eflin, but we’re not going to learn anything that we don’t already know about either of them, and I don’t think Eshelman will be added to the 40-man roster.

We’ve recently grown accustomed to this team replacing filler with filler as they slog their way through 162 games. A guy gets injured, replace him with another guy. Whatever. Who cares? But this year is different and the Phillies are in a bit of a bind here—they’re playing with some degree of expectations for the first time in six seasons, these injuries hurt their ability to meet those expectations, and there’s not a clear fix to the problem.

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4 Responses

  1. I wouldn’t be so quick to dismiss Eflin as someone whose ceiling we already know. He had surgery on both his knees after the 2016 season. This is the first season after the surgeries where he had a full off-season to prepare for pitching, rather than focusing on rehabbing.

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