In Major League Baseball through the course of the 162 game schedule, any team with flaws are exposed at some point. For the Philadelphia Phillies, the starting rotation has left many concerns even after going through multiple pitchers. In Saturday’s game, the Phillies gave experimented with an opening pitcher which possibly gives another option. This season so far with the heat of the season starting, Aaron Nola has also done the same and getting into his groove. Jake Arrieta is currently 5-5 with a 3.96 era in the number two spot in the rotation. And Zach Eflin has been solid with his time on the field going 5-5 with a 3.02 era. Although Eflin currently is on the 10-day IL with mid-back tightness.
As for the rest of the starting pitchers that the Phillies have used so far they have yielded mixed results. If an opening pitcher continues to be successful and the Phillies adopt this approach for the bottom of the rotation it could also make more sense to acquire Craig Kimbrel.
Bottom of the rotation confusion
The Phillies have used Vince Velasquez, Jerad Eickhoff, Nick Pivetta, and Cole Irvin at times to fill out the rotation. But it has not worked out as hoped for. Velasquez is now apart of the bullpen after struggling as a starter. Eickhoff started out with the most promise before his recent slide. He only gave up a combined five earned runs with two quality starts in his first four starts. Then followed that up by allowing 17 earned runs with zero quality starts in his next four starts. The long ball has been his biggest challenge by giving up 10 home runs this season which has all been in the last four starts also. The season is still young for the 28-year-old Eickhoff. But the pressure is mounting for the right-hander to dig his way out of the slump.
Pivetta and Irvin are two different types of pitchers with similar results thus far. Pivetta is on a start to start basis in the rotation with a 6.14 era. While Irvin who currently shifted to the bullpen for his last outing has to be a pitcher to get by with a fastball in the low 90’s. Irvin showed signs in his first two starts that he can be a Major League pitcher before struggling in his third start. Now that he is in the bullpen this is not a good sign for the 25-year-old but a switch to having an opening starter might benefit him and the team.
Using a opening starter
The Tampa Bay Rays brought the strategy into the league of using an opening pitcher instead of a starting pitcher. The difference is an opening pitcher is a relief pitcher by trade. With using an opening pitcher he typically gets the first few innings of work than typically taken over by a starting pitcher or long reliever.
With the Phillies current situation, this might be the best approach to the team’s troubles of filling out their rotation. The Phillies have a lot of money wrapped up into the bullpen. Some of which is currently on the injured list with the likes of Pat Neshek, Tommy Hunter, and David Robertson. Those three pitchers combined this year are making $26.75 million dollars.
The combination of Velasquez and Irvin that are now in the bullpen. Plus if this transition happens one or both of Pivetta and Eickhoff could also end up in the bullpen. Giving the Phillies all the pieces they would need for this approach.
First trial run with a opening pitcher
On Saturday, June 1st against the Los Angeles Dodgers the Phillies first experimented with using an opening pitcher. Overall the trial run went very well. Jose Alvarez was the Phillies opening starter. He pitched two scoreless innings while only giving up one hit. Alvarez was then replaced by Juan Nicasio who recorded an out on the only hitter he faced. At that point, Irvin entered the game as the long relief man pitching 3.2 innings. The Phillies ended up using six pitchers in the game.
Although the Phillies lost the game the pitchers only gave up three earned runs to what right now is the best team in the National League. So for manager Gabe Kapler and the Phillies, it has pumped some confidence into the situation.
Using opening pitcher makes room for Craig Kimbrel
If the Phillies successfully adopt the opening pitcher, it would make a perfect opportunity to acquire Kimbrel. For the Phillies to be able to fill a spot or two in the starting rotation with using an opening pitcher all within the current team. This would potentially save the Phillies more money that they would use in acquiring a higher priced starting pitcher at the trading deadline.
An acquisition of Kimbrel would then bump everybody down a spot to make the bullpen have more depth. This would make Hector Neris the new setup man and Seranthony Dominguez the 7th inning man or just another situational weapon for Kapler to use. That would be a scary backend of the bullpen for opponents to face.
Feature Image by Smashdown Sports News via Flickr
Stats via Baseball-Reference
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