CLEARWATER, Fla. -- The Phillies hoped that Andrew McCutchen might be ready to play left field by Opening Day.
He will not. The Phillies said following Friday’s 6-5 victory over the Braves at Spectrum Field that McCutchen, who tore the ACL in his left knee in June, will not have enough time to be ready for the season opener that is now less than four weeks away in Miami.
“Now, Opening Day is awfully early,” Phillies manager Joe Girardi said. “It’s March 26. Had he been ready Opening Day it would have been pretty quick. He would have been on the short end of the rehab scale. But we don’t expect it to be a real long time. Our thought process is we will get him sometime in April. If it was a normal year, the season used to start April 4, 5. But with a high-end athlete like him, he’s just not quite ready to go.
“He has made improvements as we’ve gone along. He continues to get better. But as we start to put it together, there’s some things, some hurdles that he still has to clear. The cutting. We’ve seen him out there taking fly balls, we’ve seen him taking BP. But we haven’t seen him run full speed.”
The Phillies need a healthy and productive McCutchen, whenever he returns. He slashed .256/.378/.457 with a 115 OPS+ in 262 plate appearances before the injury. Phillies leadoff hitters (essentially McCutchen) ranked second in baseball with a .379 on-base percentage and fifth with a 123 wRC+ through June 3, according to FanGraphs. Phillies leadoff hitters ranked 29th with a .295 on-base percentage and tied for 29th with a 79 wRC+ the rest of the season.
McCutchen’s absence creates an opportunity for somebody, both in the Opening Day lineup and as an extra outfielder. Jay Bruce could start in left, although he has not played in the field this spring. He is on a throwing program after battling a flexor sprain in his right elbow last season.
“He’s probably getting pretty close,” Girardi said.
Roman Quinn or Adam Haseley are options in left as well. If one of them starts there, the other will start in center.
Kyle Garlick and Nick Williams are outfielders on the 40-man roster. One of them could take a bench spot. Non-roster invitees that have outfield experience include Nick Martini, Josh Harrison, Phil Gosselin and Mikie Mahtook. Neil Walker and Logan Forsythe have also played some outfield.
“Cutch is probably still going to tell you, 'Oh, I'm still shooting for Opening Day.' But we don't think it's realistic because ... you see what our guys are going through,” Girardi said. “They are playing a day, they're off a day, they're playing a day. You just need time to physically get ready and to get 40, 50, 60 at-bats. You just can't run a guy out there for four at-bats every day and say he's going to be ready in 10 days.”
The Phillies have not had the same left fielder start on consecutive Opening Days since Raul Ibanez started three consecutive from 2009-11. Since then it has been John Mayberry Jr., Domonic Brown, Tony Gwynn Jr., Ben Revere, Cedric Hunter, Howie Kendrick, Rhys Hoskins and McCutchen.
Injured pitcher updates
Right-hander Seranthony Domínguez is scheduled to pitch Sunday in a scrimmage. The Phillies still hope he will be ready by March 26. He is recovering from a right elbow injury. Right-handers Vìctor Arano and Tommy Hunter are throwing bullpen sessions every three days. They also are recovering from elbow injuries.
Nola’s change piece
Right-hander Aaron Nola allowed six hits and two runs and struck out six in two-plus innings. He got two or three strikeouts on changeups.
After struggling to throw the changeup for strikes last season, improving command of the pitch has been a priority for him this spring.
“The changeup felt pretty good today,” Nola said. “It was down for the most part.”
Top prospects Alec Bohm and Bryson Stott are the Phillies’ most recent first-round Draft picks. They played third base and shortstop, respectively, the final six innings. Bohm hit an infield single with no outs to load the bases in the ninth. Stott followed, hitting into a forceout at the plate. But Braves catcher Carlos Martinez threw the ball away to allow the winning run to score.
Phillies right-hander Zack Wheeler makes his spring debut Saturday afternoon against the Blue Jays in Dunedin. He is expected to pitch two innings and throw roughly 35 pitches. The Phillies signed Wheeler to a five-year, $118 million contract in December. He projects to pitch the second game of the season. First pitch at TD Ballpark is set for 1:07 p.m. ET on Gameday Audio.