Nola healthy, but rotation depth taking a hit
TAMPA, Fla. -- Aaron Nola threw 78 pitches Wednesday afternoon at George M. Steinbrenner Field.
He said he felt strong. He left the ballpark healthy.
Oh, man, do the Phillies need Nola healthy. Their starting-pitching depth has taken a hit lately. It started earlier this month when top prospect Andrew Painter sustained a sprained proximal UCL in his right elbow, ending his candidacy to be the team’s No. 5 starter. He will not pick up a baseball for at least a couple of weeks. Last week, Ranger Suárez felt tightness in his left forearm while pitching for Venezuela in a WBC tuneup. He will begin long tossing on Thursday, but nobody knows if he will be ready to pitch the first week of the season.
The Phillies then announced Wednesday that left-hander Cristopher Sánchez is sidelined for at least a few days with triceps tightness, while right-hander Nick Nelson will open the season on the injured list with a strained left hamstring.
Sánchez and Nelson entered camp with outside chances to be the team’s No. 5 starter.
If Suárez pitches the first week of the season, the Phillies’ rotation looks like this: Nola, Zack Wheeler, Suárez, Taijuan Walker and Bailey Falter. If Suárez cannot pitch, it looks like this: Nola, Wheeler, Walker, Falter and right-hander Michael Plassmeyer.
Behind Plassmeyer, right-hander James McArthur is the only remaining healthy starter on the 40-man roster. McArthur was optioned to Triple-A on Sunday.
“We just have to be extra careful with our guys,” Phillies manager Rob Thomson said. “Other people have to step up.”
It explains why Thomson advocated for more warmup time for Nola in the first inning of Wednesday's 9-8 victory over the Yankees. New York used three pitchers in the top of the first. Those pitchers threw 59 pitches.
It was a slog.
Nola sat around an abnormally long time before he got to the mound in the middle of the first. Thomson was concerned about Nola’s health, so he asked home-plate umpire Brennan Miller to stop the pitch timer to give Nola a little more time. Pitchers are supposed to throw their final warmup pitch with 30 seconds remaining on the clock.
“Can we shut the timer off?” Thomson asked Miller. “This is a Spring Training game, and this is one of our guys. We have to have some sort of leniency here.”
Miller agreed, but with the caveat that it would not happen in the regular season.
Thomson would have asked anyway, even without the recent setbacks to Suárez, Painter, Sánchez and Nelson.
But everybody’s health seems even more important now.
“We’ll monitor them more often, I guess,” Thomson said. “We’ve just got to keep going.”
Fortunately, Nola said he feels great. He said he hopes to pitch six innings in his next start. He will get one more spring start after that.
Then, he is expected to start Opening Day, although nothing has been announced. If Nola he gets the nod, it would be his sixth consecutive Opening Day start.
“That would be cool, I guess,” Nola said. “I’ve got 33 or 34 of them [starts this season]. It would be cool. Whatever Thoms thinks. It’s been cool starting Opening Day to try to start the season off right. But you’ve got 32, 33, 34 starts in the regular season. That’s kind of what I shoot for.”
He can only do that if he is healthy. Knock on wood.