Here are Four Phillies Takes Before the Games Begin

Photo Credit: Jonathan Dyer-USA TODAY Sports

Believe it or not, the Phillies will begin playing games against other teams on Sunday afternoon in Lakeland, when they take on the Tigers.

That’s when we will begin to learn more about a new-look bullpen, which will man the back-end of the starting rotation, and how the Phillies will approach the uncertainty in center field.

I was going to do a Bryce Harper story Friday morning, but the other writers in town covered that pretty well.

The Inquirer has a pair of nice stories today on Harper. Scott Lauber wrote about him taking prospect Bryson Stott under his wing. Matt Breen wrote about Harper’s shift in outlook after Dave Dombrowski’s arrival. I’ll have something on that below, but read those pieces — they’re good.

As for me, I’m going to take a different approach this morning.

I’ve decided to sort through a week of Zoom calls featuring Joe Girardi and select players and bring you four Phillies takes* following a week of workouts down in Clearwater.

*Please note that these takes, while objectively excellent, are subject to edits and will probably change. Thank you.

love someone like Bryce Harper loves Dave Dombrowski

I won’t say that Bryce Harper has anything against former general manager Matt Klentak, but I will tell you that he loves Dave Dombrowski, whom he recently referred to as a “breath of fresh air.”

On Thursday, after noting the the Phillies’ farm system is “depleted” and the team didn’t “have anybody to call up or trade away for anything that substantial,” Harper raved about Dombrowski:

“I was wondering kind of what we were going to do and then John (Middleton) made his decisions of bringing in Dombrowski, of course, and then Sam Fuld as our GM. Two moves where I thought, ‘Wow, here we go. This is the start of our offseason, this is what we’re going to do.’ I said the other day you don’t bring in Dombrowski unless it’s a win-now kind of move.”

He later described his reaction to Dombrowski’s hire by saying, “When he came in, it was kind of like, ‘Whoa. Here we go. This is it. This is what we’re going to do.”

Harper, who admitted he was concerned with the team’s direction as recently as December, specifically highlighted the bullpen additions and the J.T. Realmuto deal.

Harper has been a good player in his first two seasons with the Phillies, but his impact is felt beyond on-field performance.

Frankly, I think it’s fair to wonder if the organization’s top decision-makers would have kept their foot on the gas this offseason if they didn’t feel an obligation to Harper.

At the very least, had they pulled back, they would have risked alienating their most prominent and influential player. It’s no surprise that he is happy with the hire of Dombrowski, who has come in and made things happen – things I’m not so sure the previous general manager could have or would have made happen.

Zach Eflin can take a step forward, really

After watching Vince Velasquez once again do Vince Velasquez things and Nick Pivetta bomb out last season, Phillies fans don’t want to hear the same narrative about a starting pitcher who is poised for a breakout season.

Trust me, I get it, but I think whereas the hope for Velasquez and Pivetta was rooted purely on velocity, Eflin possesses the feel necessary to actually make a jump this season into a formidable No. 3 starter.

I wrote about this in detail the other day, but here’s the short of it, with easy to read bullets:

  • After an offseason of emphasis on refining his curveball, the pitch was markedly better last year. Opponents slugged .654 against it in 2019. They slugged just .125 against it last season.
  • Despite posting career-bests in K/9, ERA, FIP, and WHIP last season — all while lowering his hard hit rate — Eflin had a career-worst .347 BABIP (Batting Average on Balls In Play). If he maintains his 2020 performance and gets a little more luck, his numbers stand to improve.

I’m in the best shape of my life!

This young man was in the best shape of his life, but despite his claim, I’m not so sure he was ready to roll.

This time of year, one of the most popular storylines is about who came to camp bulked up/slimmed down/on a new training regimen.

Alec Bohm is bigger, Scott Kingery is smaller, and so it goes.

These changes could be meaningful. They could be meaningless.

Maybe following an impressive rookie season, Bohm develops consistent power and takes a big step forward. Maybe Kingery changes his approach and becomes more of a gap-to-gap guy.

It doesn’t require a deep look back to see how these storylines don’t always pan out.  Last spring, there was reason to be excited when Kingery came to camp with some added muscle and a consistent fielding position. Obviously, there were other factors in play like COVID-19, but once he got on the field, his added muscle didn’t help his game.

We need things to write and talk about and this stuff makes for good fodder, but we won’t truly know until things go live.

Spencer Howard, ace reliever?

Not so long ago, the idea that Spencer Howard would slot into the middle of the rotation and be a young stud to pair with Aaron Nola and Zack Wheeler was almost a forgone conclusion. That may still happen, but I don’t get the sense that is how things will line up come early April.

Howard, who pitched just 24 1/3 innings in 2020, dealt with both injuries and unfortunate circumstances last season.

He’s now healthy and still possesses the upside that has/had people in the organization excited. But given concerns about workload and the Phillies’ slim margin for error as they look to make the playoffs for the first time since 2011 in what Harper called a “juggernaut” National League East, I wouldn’t be surprised if Howard is utilized out of the bullpen in the early going.

It’s hard to ignore the signings of Matt Moore and Chase Anderson, or the team’s reported recent interest in Jake Odorizzi. Pair those things with workload concerns and a team that may be less willing to deal with growing pains, and I think it sets up where he’s the odd man out at the start.