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Phils look to boost young rotation before spring

Club confident in Nola and others, but eyeing market for starter
MLB.com @ToddZolecki

PHILADELPHIA -- Before the Phillies finalized a three-year, $60 million contract for Carlos Santana late last month, they said they planned to make starting pitching their top priority the remainder of the offseason.

The search continues for that pitcher.

PHILADELPHIA -- Before the Phillies finalized a three-year, $60 million contract for Carlos Santana late last month, they said they planned to make starting pitching their top priority the remainder of the offseason.

The search continues for that pitcher.

The Phillies are looking, because there are too many uncertainties in the rotation to make the front office and coaching staff comfortable, which is understandable considering they accelerated the timetable for their rebuild by hiring Gabe Kapler and signing Santana. The Phillies have said publicly that they believe their young pitchers will continue to improve. It might happen, too, but it always makes sense to have as much certainty as possible.

Phillies' projected 2018 lineup

MLB.com is taking a look at the projected rotation of all 30 teams ahead of Spring Training. Here's how the Phillies might stack up:

ROTATION IF SEASON STARTED TODAY
Aaron Nola, RHP
Jerad Eickhoff, RHP
Vince Velasquez, RHP
Nick Pivetta, RHP
Ben Lively, RHP

STRENGTH
Nola has All-Star potential after taking a step forward last season. He posted a 3.54 ERA, the lowest mark among qualified Phillies pitchers since Cole Hamels (2.46 ERA) in 2014. He averaged 9.86 strikeouts per nine innings, which was the highest rate by a Phillies pitcher since Curt Schilling (10.05) in 1998. Nola pitched a career-high 168 innings last season. Ideally, he will push or exceed 200 innings in 2018.

Video: CHC@PHI: Eickhoff fans eight over five solid frames

QUESTION MARKS
There are questions regarding health and performance about multiple pitchers. Eickhoff (nerve irritation in right hand), Velasquez (right middle finger surgery) and Zach Eflin (strained right shoulder) finished the season on the disabled list. Each is expected to be ready to compete when camp opens next month.

Hot Stove Tracker

Eickhoff (4.71 ERA in 24 starts) suffered a decrease in fastball velocity last season. Velasquez (5.13 ERA in 15 starts) continued to pile up high pitch counts and struggled to pitch past the fifth inning. Phillies general manager Matt Klentak has raved about Pivetta's potential, but he posted a 6.02 ERA in 26 starts. Lively (4.26 ERA in 15 starts) might have the edge over Eflin (6.16 ERA in 11 starts), Jake Thompson (3.88 ERA in 11 appearances), Mark Leiter Jr. (4.96 ERA in 27 appearances) and others in camp, but he is not a lock.

Video: PHI@ATL: Pivetta throws six innings of shutout ball

WHAT MIGHT CHANGE
The Phillies still expect to acquire a starting pitcher before Spring Training. But what caliber pitcher will he be? There is no chance the Phillies can meet the current asking prices for free agents Jake Arrieta or Yu Darvish. It just doesn't make sense to shell out that kind of money. It also is unlikely that Philadelphia will unload the farm for a young, controllable starter like Gerrit Cole or Chris Archer. The Phillies could sign another pitcher to a one-year contract, like they have the previous two offseasons (Jeremy Hellickson, Charlie Morton and Clay Buchholz) or hope the asking prices drop for free agents like Alex Cobb and Lance Lynn.

Todd Zolecki has covered the Phillies since 2003, and for MLB.com since 2009. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook and listen to his podcast.

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