Put all the Phillies pitchers and catchers in bubble wrap for the next two weeks. Seriously. Because this is getting ridiculous.
The Phillies came into Spring Training feeling really good about their pitching depth. There were their two aces in Aaron Nola and Zack Wheeler. There was their postseason hero, Ranger Suarez. There was the free agent acquisition, Taijuan Walker. There was Bailey Falter, who gave the Phillies so many important starts late last season when Wheeler was sidelined. There was Nick Nelson, a hard-throwing long-man out of the bullpen who could get a spot start or two, if needed, There was 19-year-old phenom Andrew Painter, who is considered the best pitching prospect in all of baseball. There were two more young prospects, who the Phillies are very excited about in Mick Abel and Griff McGarry. And then there were the depth pieces on the 40-man roster, Christopher Sanchez, who was called upon a few times in emergency in 2022, lefty Michael Plassmeyer, who the Phillies acquired from San Francisco in an under-the-radar trade for depth catcher Austin Wynns last June, and finally Phillies farmhand James McArthur, who has been on the 40-man roster since the winter of 2021 and made 13 starts at AA Reading last season.
It was suddenly an embarrassment of depth riches for a franchise that, just two springs ago, struggled to have even five guys it could rely on to start games.
Now, with two weeks still to go in spring training before the regular season kicks off in Texas, that 12-man list has been cut in half.
The latest news is that Sanchez has triceps tightness in his left arm and is being shut down for a few days to be evaluated. He was rocked in a very brief outing Tuesday against Atlanta, and there was cause for concern because his fastball was two miles-per-hour slower than it was last year. The Phillies were initially reporting that he was behind in his throwing program because of a minor back issue at the very beginning of camp, until they learned Wednesday of the triceps issue.
Joining Sanchez in the infirmary Wednesday was Nelson, who has a hamstring strain that’s severe enough to have him likely start the season on the I.L.
They will be hanging out on the sidelines with Painter, who can’t even begin tossing a ball again for another three weeks after it was discovered he has a small proximal tear of his UCL, and Suarez, who left the World Baseball Classic after experiencing forearm tightness, although he threw on flat ground again for the second straight day Wednesday and will play long toss Thursday. If all goes well there, he will resume his throwing program and could still be ready by the first week of the regular season.
Still, Abel, McGarry, and MacArthur were all sent back to minor league camp last week, and if Abel or McGarry were needed, a corresponding roster move would be required to add them tot he 40-man. This leaves the Phillies right now with Nola, Wheeler, Walker (who looked great in his start for Mexico at the WBC), Falter, and Plassmeyer as the only potential starters actively pitching in games in Spring Training. And with Walker at the WBC and the Phillies playing five games between Thursday night and Sunday afternoon, well, something has to give.
“We just have to be extra careful with our guys,” manager Rob Thomson said.
Adding to the agita-inducing scenario is some worry at catcher as well. Both J.T. Realmuto and Garrett Stubbs were off at the WBC, but Stubbs returned with what the Phillies are calling “right knee irritation.” He had an MRI Wednesday, but the Phillies did not yet announce the results. The only other catcher on the 40-man roster, Rafael Marchan, has, it was learned Wednesday, a bruised hamate bone on his right hand. He can still catch but he can’t swing a bat. He is going to need another week before he can. This means, if there is going to be any delay with Stubbs to start the season, and Thomson said the Phillies aren’t overly-concerned with the injury, so maybe it’s minor, but even if he can’t play Opening Day, they may have to add another catcher to the 40-man. Aramis Garcia and John Hicks, two veterans in camp on an invite, would be the next guys up, and since Thomson has personally mentioned Garcia as a “valuable depth piece,” he’s likely ahead in that race.
But the Phillies have some decisions to make now the rest of the way in camp,
Nola, who looked good and said in felt good in a 78-pitch outing against the Yankees Wednesday in the Phillies’ 9-8 victory, is on schedule to make two more starts prior to Opening Day. He’s expected to make his sixth straight Opening Day start for the Phillies, although Thomson still won’t announce that officially.
Aaron Nola's 7Ks in 3.2 IP pic.twitter.com/r4L3hg7XG1
— Rob Friedman (@PitchingNinja) March 15, 2023
Wheeler will pitch Thursday night against Detroit in Lakeland, and then he, too, will have two more starts prior to the start of the regular season. Then the schedule gets dicey.
Both Falter and Plassmeyer are scheduled to pitch Friday, as the Phillies have a split squad day with Toronto with one game in Clearwater and the other in Dunedin. But the Phillies are currently without starters available for either Saturday’s road game in North Shore against Atlanta or Sunday’s game in Clearwater against Boston.
They can obviously turn to other pitchers in camp, or recall one of the guys down in the minor league camp (MacArthur makes sense as he’s the only other guy on the 40-man), but the final two weeks can’t move fast enough for the Phillies at this point.
Pace of play problem
The Phillies and Yankees blew up MLB’s average game length Wednesday with a 3 hour-and-26 minute slog fest. The teams combined to use 15 pitchers, who walked 21 hitters in the game. Awesome.
The first inning alone was 46 minutes long. The Phillies scored seven runs in the top of the first with 12 batters coming to the plate. The Yankees made two pitching changes in the top of the first alone.
And while all that time was dragging on, Nola was sitting on the bench getting cold after his initial warm-up.
“Up-downs,” as pitchers call them, are the most important part of a game, especially in Spring Training, when they are trying to build up their arm. The time between innings is crucial. Pitchers train their bodies in such a way that they don’t want to sit for long or they can tighten up and risk injury.
With Nola down for about a half hour from the end of his warmup and before he took the mound for the first inning, he needed a little extra time to get loose again.
Here’s the issue: the new pace of play rules don’t allow for that.
With just two minutes and five seconds between innings and pitchers having to throw their last warmup pitch by the time 30 seconds remain, there is often about 90 seconds to warm up. In the past, umpires have been lenient with this, especially after a long inning. Not any more.
Thomson said he had to lobby home plate umpire Brennan Miller for more time. Miller eventually relented, because it was Nola and he hadn’t thrown yet, but told Thomson that only because it was Spring Training and it wouldn’t happen in the regular season.
Thomson wasn’t too pleased with that notion afterward and indicated that the league needs to look into that for the health of their players.
In the game against the Yankees:
- Brandon Marsh had a bases-clearing double in his second plate appearance of the first inning. It should have been caught, but hey, he’ll take it.
- Nick Castellanos had an RBI single and yet another walk, his team-leading eighth this spring.
- Josh Harrison had two more hits, including a double in which he high-stepped into second base, sending the Phillies dugout into hysterics. His personality is infectious. It’s very Jimmy Rollins-esque. Already a clubhouse favorite, Harrison could become a fan-favorite quickly as a versatile utility guy.
To recap: we scored 7 runs in the first inning. We're gifting you with some of them pic.twitter.com/T1unvDzenE
— Philadelphia Phillies (@Phillies) March 15, 2023
- Scott Kingery had his first 0-fer in a start this Spring, but he did walk and score a run.
- Jake Cave had another RBI single, but he did strike out three times.
- Dalton Guthrie had a double that would have been a home run, but the ball was somehow pulled back into the field of play by Yankees leftfielder Matt Pita on a leaping attempt at the wall.