Making Sense of the Phillies' Possible Opening Weekend Rotation Plan
After the Phillies’ 5-1 loss to the Baltimore Orioles in their lone home exhibition game of summer camp, Joe Girardi provided some insight into the team’s pitching plans for the upcoming week. Those plans included somewhat of a surprise, at least in relation to the long-assumed construction of what the starting rotation would look like.
Could Vince Velasquez be in line for an opening weekend start against the Marlins?
It appears so.
Aaron Nola looks locked into a start in the opener, particularly following a sharp five innings of one-hit baseball against the Nationals on Saturday night. Presumably, Zack Wheeler, who struggled with command throughout an 86-pitch effort last night, will follow in game two.
That’s when things become a little less clear. Jake Arrieta, who many thought to be the Phils’ third starter, initially figured to take the ball in Sunday’s series finale. However, after a postgame exchange between MLB.com Phillies reporter Todd Zolecki and Girardi, that no longer seems to be the plan. That exchange:
Zolecki: “Hey Joe, I know you guys are planning on having Zack, I guess, pitch Saturday, would be his next day, or his first start of the season. If he can’t go, his wife is giving birth, would Jake then step into that spot? I mean, he’s pitching tomorrow, right?”
Girardi: No, Jake is not pitching tomorrow. Vinny is pitching tomorrow. Velasquez. I think it will be his sixth day, so we have a lot of things we can do if we have to.”
The decision to go with Velasquez tonight in New York, and, presumably, on Sunday is *likely* a matter of scheduling. Velasquez is well rested, while Arrieta would be coming back on only three days rest, so it makes sense for the former to get the ball against the Yankees and Marlins, at least from a logistical standpoint.
Breathe this in: Vince Velasquez. No. 3 starter.
For what it’s worth (Version 1.0), Velasquez posted an 0-1 record with a 7.06 ERA against Miami in five starts last season. He lasted a total of only 21.2 IP in those starts. Arrieta, meanwhile, was 3-0 in three starts against Miami, but posted a 5.00 ERA. In short, neither guy was exactly lights out against the 57-win Marlins last season.
For what it’s worth (Version 2.0), Velasquez has actually looked good during the team’s summer camp. I don’t blame you if you’re feeling a bit skeptical about the hype after 99 mostly frustrating career starts. But an increased focus on his changeup and an added cutter has created some optimism that this year could finally be the year that Velasquez takes a step forward.
Arrieta is scheduled to throw again during Wednesday night’s intrasquad game, which should put him in line for a start in next Monday’s opener against the Yankees.
Still, there is a bit of a status thing when it comes to rotation slots, particularly early in the season. For Velasquez to have quickly transitioned from a guy who was possibly on the outside looking in to one likely to start opening weekend is quite the development.
If this in fact how things play out, Velasquez will surely be thrilled. Arrieta, who knows?
Due to COVID-19 protocols, neither player was accessible following Girardi’s explanation, so it will be interesting to hear what each player has to say when made available at some point this week.
As for the fifth spot in the rotation, that will likely depend on how Zach Eflin performs in Thursday’s simulated game. Eflin will need to prove he’s both healthy and stretched out in order to get the ball on July 28th against New York.
If he’s not, or if Wheeler must leave the team, or if someone gets hurt, or if another starter must leave the team for “undisclosed reasons” that are related to COVID-19 (see, a lot can happen here), then it’s possible that Nick Pivetta makes a start the first time through the rotation.
Got all of that? Good.