Pitching Report: Phillies Starting Rotation, Bullpen, and options in Lehigh Valley
In yesterday’s 3-2 win against the Miami Marlins, there were a few encouraging signs and some answers to lingering questions about the Phillies’ pitchers. Spencer Howard was on the mound for the Phillies. He pitched deeper into the game than his first start before abruptly losing his command and a pinch of his velocity. Howard retired 12 of the first 14 batters he faced and breezed through four scoreless innings before hitting a wall in the fifth. He threw 36 of his 51 pitches for strikes through four innings, striking out four and only walking one.
Spencer Howard’s Velocity
The most important part, as we all know, is Howard’s velocity. It was encouraging to see his fastball average 93.6 mph in the first inning and stay exactly at 93.6 mph in the fourth inning. In the fifth where problems began to arise for the Phillies’ No. 1 Prospect, his fastball dropped slightly down to 92.2 mph. In the fifth inning, Howard through 15 pitches. Only six of them went for strikes.
After his previous start, Spencer Howard claimed that his velocity fell off after he ran out a ground ball down the first base line. He stated he couldn’t get his heart rate back down to where it needed to be. After he said this, I immediately hated the answer. “Our number one prospect, 24 year old Spencer Howard can’t throw after running out a ground ball down the first base line?” The comment was frustrating to hear but yesterday, much like his fastball through four innings, Howard gave a much more encouraging answer.
“I think I just snowballed a little bit with bad mechanics on top of each other, then trying too hard to fix it, and in turn, making it worse,” Howard said. “But I still think it’s a step in the right direction. The fluctuating velocity is just a product of not really maintaining consistent mechanics to this point. Definitely, for me, moving forward, that’s going to be a focus.”
For me, that’s an answer that Howard and the Phillies can work with. It’s sink or swim time for Spencer Howard and telling everyone that you were running down the first base line and losing your velocity because of it just wasn’t what anyone wanted to hear from their number one prospect. The above answer however, has Howard acknowledging an actual baseball problem in his mechanics and has identified an area of work to focus on. That’s something I can live with as the season goes on and Howard is taking the mound every five games.
Moore, Anderson OUT.
The Phillies can safely pencil Aaron Nola, Zack Wheeler, Zach Eflin, Vincent Velasquez, and now Spencer Howard in as their starting rotation this season. Not that they have many other options in the back half, but we finally have a rotation to count on moving forward and that’s a good thing. Outside of the top four pitchers for the Phillies, anyone who has slid into the fifth spot of the rotation has struggled. The Phillies fifth starters have carried a 7.30 ERA in 13 starts entering Thursday.
Dave Dombrowski took a $7 million gamble on Matt Moore and Chase Anderson to solidify the back two spots of the Phillies rotation. That didn’t work. Both pitchers are now lingering in the bullpen with little-to-no use for either. Matt Moore is 0-1 on the season with a 7.36 ERA in 18.1 innings pitched. Chase Anderson is 2-4 on the season with a 7.46 ERA in 35 innings pitched.
Numbers for the Phillies Starting Rotation:
Aaron Nola has been a little inconsistent this year and is off to a 3-4 start with a 3.72 ERA in 11 games. He has pitched a total of 65.1 innings and has struck out 76 with a 1.10 WHIP.
Zack Wheeler has been absolutely dominant for the Phillies. Wheeler continued his dominant start to 2021 last Sunday against the Boston Red Sox. He struck out 12 batters in 7 1/3 innings, allowing just one run in a 6-2 win for the Phillies. Wheeler is now 4-2 with a 2.38 ERA and is the first Phillies pitcher since Roy Halladay with a sub-2.50 ERA and sub-1.00 WHIP in his first 10 starts of the season.
Zach Eflin is 2-4 with a 3.84 ERA in 10 games this season. He has 63 strikeouts in 63.1 innings with a 1.17 WHIP. Eflin has pitched past the sixth inning in every start this season and four or more runs in three of them.
Vincent Velasquez is 2-0 on the season with a 2.95 ERA in 10 games, six of which were starts for the Phillies. He’s thrown 36.2 innings and has struck out 45 batters with a 1.28 WHIP. Velasquez is confident and pitching some of the best baseball of his rollercoaster career. The Phillies desperately needed him to step up with Matt Moore and Chase Anderson both struggling and Velasquez has over delivered in doing so.
Phillies’ Fifth Spot: Spencer Howard / Ranger Suarez Split
Then of course, as mentioned above, you have Spencer Howard, who finally showed the Phillies some encouraging signs yesterday. What was even more encouraging was who came in after Spencer Howard hit a wall in the fifth inning. Ranger Suarez has been the definition of perfection this year for the Phillies out of the bullpen.
Suarez entered the game yesterday inheriting a bases-loaded, no-out jam courtesy of Spencer Howard. He cleaned up the bases-loaded mess by only allowing one run to score. He pitched three scoreless innings allowing a hit, walking zero, and striking out three.
Suarez was recalled from Lehigh Valley after the Phillies lost LHP JoJo Romero for the season due to Tommy John Surgery. Suarez lost the entire 2020 season and even spent a month alone in a Clearwater hotel room in COVID-19 protocol. He dealt with visa issues that kept him out of Spring Training this year entirely, and rehabbed through a quadriceps injury that delayed him getting back on the mound for the Phillies in early May.
Finally ready to pitch, Suarez has been dominant. He has yet to allow a run over seven games and 12 innings pitched. He has struck out 11 batters and has a 0.67 WHIP on the season. Suarez is fearless and has been attacking hitters. Having Suarez continue to develop into a long-innings reliever for the Phillies and piggybacking Spencer Howard in the fifth spot of the rotation could prove to be the answer for the Phillies moving forward.
Does Joe Girardi, who recently stated that he would no longer be talking much to the media, feel the same?
“I think that’s possible, but if I need Ranger in other spots, I don’t want to not use him to hold him back for a fifth day, just because you don’t ever know what’s going to happen. He gives me a second lefty out of the bullpen who also gets righties out. The piggyback idea is a great idea, but I’m not sure when I’m going to need him. That’s the only problem.”
Additional Pitching Options for the Phillies
In Lehigh Valley, as we all know, the Phillies don’t really have much major league talent readily available. There are a few names to keep an eye on as the season rolls into summer. Damon Jones, who has recently transitioned into a bullpen role for the 2021 season in the minor leagues.
Jones is a hard throwing lefty that has struck out 12 and walked three in 9.1 innings for the IronPigs in the early goings of the minor league season. The 26 year old reliever throws left handed, which would help the Phillies if they decide to keep Suarez in the piggy back role behind Howard. Jones would be the second left handed reliever outside of Suarez in the Phillies bullpen.
Another minor league arm to keep an eye on would be Adonis Medina. He is currently 3-1 with a 3.48 ERA in five games this season with the IronPigs. He’s thrown 20.2 innings and struck out 15 with a 1.26 WHIP. Most recently, he threw five scoreless innings, allowing zero hits and striking out four against Syracuse.
The Phillies have a day off today before heading to play the Tampa Bay Rays on Saturday afternoon. Wheeler, Eflin, and Velasquez will be on the mound for the Phillies, who currently sit a game below .500 at 25-26.
Mandatory Credit: USA TODAY