Everybody in Philadelphia should be talking about Bryce Harper’s two home runs and the runner he threw out at the plate Sunday at Coors Field.
Instead, they are lamenting the back end of the Phillies’ rotation again.
It is a problem the organization cannot seem to fix. Phillies right-hander Chase Anderson allowed six runs in 3 2/3 innings in a 12-2 loss to the Rockies, which dropped Philadelphia to 10-11. The Phils are 9-4 when Aaron Nola, Zack Wheeler and Zach Eflin start this season. They are 1-7 when Anderson, Matt Moore and Vince Velasquez start.
“That is frustrating, because I signed here because I wanted to win,” Anderson said. “That was No. 1. I know I can pitch at this level and continue to for a long time. It just comes down to execution and making pitches and trying to get deeper in ballgames. When we get a [2-0] lead like [Sunday], we need to go out there and hold that lead and continue to pitch good to the fifth and sixth innings, like I know I can do. It just goes back to executing pitches and getting guys out that you know you can get out.”
There are many forces at play with the Phillies’ slow start. The offense has underperformed, the bullpen is shorthanded and the defense continues to struggle. But the Phils thought they had something when they signed Anderson to a one-year, $4 million contract and Moore to a one-year, $3 million contract in the offseason.
Anderson has a 6.48 ERA. Moore has a 9.82 ERA and missed his start on Friday because of COVID-19 protocols, although he could rejoin the rotation as early as Wednesday. Velasquez, who has a 6.75 ERA, pitched in his place Friday.
None of them have pitched more than five innings in a start.
“Of course, you want them to give you the best chance to win each day that they go out there, any of our pitching,” Harper said. “Our offense definitely hasn’t been there for a couple days now and not really getting it going every single day. It kind of gets your starting pitching a little tight, and then your bullpen a little tight as well. So as an offense, we need to do better, score a little bit more, but also, starting pitching and defense wins ballgames We just need to be better all around as a team.”
There are no easy solutions for Philadelphia, other than hoping Anderson and Moore pitch better in time.
The Phillies have no plans to use top prospect Spencer Howard as a traditional starter. He is on a strict innings limit. President of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski said if Howard starts, he will pitch only two or three innings, at most.
Philadelphia used two of Howard’s innings in mop-up duty on Sunday. He allowed three runs and now has an 8.31 ERA in three appearances.
Might the Phillies and Howard be better served by making him an opener every five days? Most teams that use openers have the pitcher throw only one inning. Maybe Howard could pitch two or three.
“Well, that's not something that we've talked about,” Girardi said. “I also think it's important that if he is throwing well, he throws important innings, and he also gets built up and gets a chance to work on his stuff, right? I mean, it's hard to sometimes improve your stuff if you're not getting multiple innings. So there's a lot to think about there. And we talk about it all the time. What's best for us as a team here? And what's best for him?
“I mean, I guess you could use an opener for two or three innings. But it's just different. You know, everyone has to be on board. Your starters have to learn to adjust to that. There's a lot to adjust to.”
Other options are Adonis Medina, Francisco Morales, Ranger Suárez and Bailey Falter, who made his MLB debut on Sunday. Falter allowed two runs in two innings.
Meanwhile, three starters from the Phillies’ recent past are pitching well for other teams: Red Sox right-hander Nick Pivetta (2-0, 3.48 ERA), A’s left-hander Cole Irvin (2-2, 3.86) and Cubs right-hander Jake Arrieta (3-2, 2.57). Philadelphia traded Pivetta to Boston last July for Brandon Workman and Heath Hembree. It dealt Irvin to Oakland for cash considerations in January. And Arrieta signed with Chicago as a free agent.
“We need more out of them,” Girardi said of his Nos. 4 and 5 starters. “And I think they're more than capable of giving us more.”