You may have heard that thanks to yesterday’s doubleheader, the Phillies will have an open spot in their rotation when they face Atlanta on Sunday afternoon.
Zach Eflin is set to make his season debut tonight, while Vince Velasquez and Jake Arrieta will get the first two cracks at the Braves this weekend.
With Sunday’s probable pitcher spot currently vacant, the rotation has seemingly aligned for the highly-anticipated debut of top pitching prospect Spencer Howard.
Despite the best efforts of reporters to pin down Joe Girardi on his team’s plans for Sunday, the manager has yet to commit to the 24-year-old Howard. Still, the writing seems to be on the wall.
But what happens after Sunday’s start? Could this shape up to be a potential one-and-done deal for Howard, or is he here to stay?
Prior to the Phillies’ series finale with the Yankees on Thursday night, I asked Girardi if he anticipates Howard sticking around for good:
Crossing Broad: When you do bring up Spencer Howard, would that be done with the mindset that you would want him up here permanently, or are you open to the idea of bringing him up for a spot start or in some situation and then perhaps having to send him back to Lehigh?
Girardi: Well, I think that when he arrives, I don’t think we’re going to be sending him back and forth. I think we’re going to give him an opportunity to grow into a role. I think that’s kind of our plan. Obviously, players have to perform. That’s the bottom line, but I don’t think you’re going to take one outing and say oh, he’s not ready or he is ready. Time will tell where he’s at, but we have high hopes for him and really believe in him.
There’s no question that Howard is expected to be a big part of the Phillies’ starting rotation for many years to come, but with the bullpen currently in disarray, I asked Girardi about a potential bullpen role for Howard in 2020. The manager didn’t rule it out:
Crossing Broad: Are you exclusively committed to using him (Howard) as a starter, or has there been any conversation that given the way the season is playing out there may be a role for him in the bullpen?”
Girardi: We talked about both roles for him, and depending on when he gets here and how we do it, we’ll have to manage, because he’s not used to throwing out of the bullpen, I wouldn’t look for him to throw back-to-back days if we put him in the bullpen. I would look for him to be more of a multiple inning guy who could get us big outs – that sort of thing.
Of course, the Phillies are probably one more Vince Velasquez blowup or injury to a starter away from having this decision made for them, but it’s interesting to hear that even as Howard is days away from his likely debut that the team could see a variety of short-term roles.
Then again, in light of what we’ve seen from the Phillies’ bullpen to this point, I guess it’s a wise move to leave any and all options on the table.