Versatile Strahm set to start 5th game for Phils

March 26th, 2023

SARASOTA, Fla. -- Phillies manager Rob Thomson said Sunday that left-hander will start the fifth game of the regular season, and "then we’ll figure it out from there."

Strahm's workload in that first start could reach 70 pitches. Thomson said Strahm will also be available for one inning of relief, if needed, in Thursday’s season opener against the Rangers in Arlington.

It’s a perfect plan for the philosophy of Strahm, who said he’s prepared for “whatever happens.’’

As the season draws closer, "whatever" could mean almost anything for Strahm. He should get early-season starting assignments, particularly with presumptive No. 3 starter likely to begin the season on the injured list. Strahm could throw bulk innings. He’s also prepared to pitch at the end of games, if necessary, and he said he could get some relief work between starts.

Thomson said he will likely lay out plans for the entire pitching rotation -- headlined by Aaron Nola and Zack Wheeler at the top -- on Monday.

“I just want to pitch,’’ Strahm said. “I don’t care when it is. Whenever 'Thomper' gives me the ball and whenever he takes the ball -- that’s about it.’’

Strahm, who signed with the Phillies as a free agent after spending last season with the Red Sox, had mixed results  in Sunday's 4-2 loss to the Orioles at Ed Smith Stadium.

After allowing the first two Baltimore batters to reach, Strahm retired six straight heading to the third inning before struggling with location. He issued a leadoff walk and later allowed a two-run homer to Anthony Santander that put the Phils in a 3-0 hole. Strahm followed with another walk -- his third of the day -- that ended his afternoon after 59 pitches (34 strikes).

Overall, Thomson said it was a positive outing and Strahm generally maintained his velocity. The Phillies’ staff will continue to monitor Strahm’s workload. He has appeared in 207 Major League games, though only 25 as a starter (16 of which came with the Padres in 2019).

“He has started in the past, but not for a few years,’’ Thomson said. “So that’s always a concern.’’

“I just felt like my arm was dragging a little bit [in the third inning],’’ Strahm said. “That’s obviously fatigue. But you’ve got to get built up here for whatever is ahead.’’

Back to “whatever.’’

“Just roll with the punches,’’ Strahm said. “I’ve voiced it with the pitching staff and the medical staff. When I was a starter [in 2019], I was trying to figure out the routine, and then I got out in the bullpen. So it’s something I’m still trying to figure out.

“So I’m just trusting them and going along with it. And I’m being as honest with them as I can. The next ones count. I’ve got to make sure my lifts are more cardio-based, get my legs under me and keep them under me.’’

Strahm, a 21st-round pick by the Royals in the 2012 Draft, said he’ll be happy as long as he’s contributing to the team.

“I was never a prospect … and then I was a prospect … and then it was like, ‘Oh, maybe we should try starting,'" Strahm said. “I’ve come to Spring Training as a starter my first four big league camps, then got moved to the bullpen [every time].

“So roles? I’ve seen a lot of guys get tied up in them, and it stresses them out. It’s just something out of our control. We’re athletes. When we’re asked to perform, perform. Whatever they tell me to do, I’m going to try and do. I feel like I’ve been in the game long enough to trust my body and just compete. It comes down to my stamina and what I have left to compete with.’’

Castellanos a first-base option?
Right fielder Nick Castellanos has been taking ground balls at first base following the season-ending injury to Rhys Hoskins. Thomson said it was Castellanos’ idea and it shows the skipper that “he’s trying to help the team any way he can. … That’s a good sign, and I’m all for it."

"I’ll talk to him about it and see where he’s at with it," said Thomson, who added it's too early to draw any conclusions from it. "There’s more to it than just fielding the ball. There’s positioning, cuts and relays -- a whole bunch of stuff that you’d have to cover."

Castellanos, who termed it purely as an “emergency’’ strategy, has never played first base in any of his 1,222 Major League games.