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Price expects Phils' pitchers to make leap in '20

@ToddZolecki
January 16, 2020

PHILADELPHIA -- If this is it, is it enough? Phillies pitching coach Bryan Price got asked that question this week at Citizens Bank Park, because if they do not find more pitchers before Opening Day, he will be asked to make it work. His new team made a splash in

PHILADELPHIA -- If this is it, is it enough?

Phillies pitching coach Bryan Price got asked that question this week at Citizens Bank Park, because if they do not find more pitchers before Opening Day, he will be asked to make it work. His new team made a splash in December, when it signed right-hander Zack Wheeler to a five-year, $118 million contract. But the Phillies otherwise have not addressed their rotation or bullpen, which is stressing out fans who last season watched the starters fail to meet the front office’s lofty projections and the relievers suffer a rash of injuries.

The Phillies are still looking for pitching help, but because they choose not to exceed the $208 million Competitive Balance Tax, the only thing they have to offer pitchers is non-guaranteed contracts with non-roster invitations to Spring Training. They might not find anybody willing to take a deal like that until next month.

If the Phils can’t find anybody, then the they will hope that Price can help the team’s current pitchers take the steps forward that the front office expected many of them to take last season.

“I’m an optimist, but I’m also a realist,” Price said. "When I took the job, I knew some of the peripherals. I certainly knew Aaron Nola and Jake Arrieta and Zach Eflin. I’m aware of [Vince] Velasquez. I had seen [Nick] Pivetta pitch. I’m aware of [Hector] Neris and [Adam] Morgan and some of the guys in the bullpen. But not where you really know that much about them. Then I didn’t know what the peripherals were of what was in the system, and who really pitched and had an impact role last year, and what were the probabilities that they were going to get better.

“As I kind of investigated that through meeting these guys or talking to them on the phone, and then talking to our staff members here and looking at a lot of video, I was extremely encouraged. I think there is a lot of pitching here that has room to get much better, and I’m looking forward to being a part of that by helping where I can.”

The Phillies will enter camp with Nola, Wheeler and Arrieta holding down the first three jobs in the rotation. The front office says that Eflin, Velasquez and Pivetta will be competing for the final two starting spots, but Eflin should be considered a heavy favorite for a job. He outpitched Velasquez and Pivetta the previous two seasons.

Price will be tasked with unlocking the potential of Velasquez and Pivetta. If he can get just one of them to take a step forward in 2020, it could make a huge difference to the rotation. Price has talked to both pitchers multiple times this offseason.

“We started to talk about their introspection of themselves,” Price said. “How do they see themselves? What do they think they can do to get better? I offered them a few thoughts. But in this position, I don’t want to offer up too much because I don’t know these guys well enough yet. I don’t know what they’ve already tried. I don’t want to be redundant. Getting to know them and watching them throw live as opposed to different angles on video will make a big difference. It’s great talent, but we do have to refine the talent and the productivity.”

Velasquez or Pivetta could end up in the bullpen, if they do not win a rotation job. Price said typically it is best if a starter has time to make that adjustment. The Phillies last season moved Eflin, Velasquez and Pivetta to the bullpen at various times without an adjustment period.

“First, you have to get over the emotional, mental hurdle of not starting,” Price said. “A lot of starting pitchers look at it, at times, as a demotion, when actually it can be something that stimulates a career and greatly impacts a club. If we’re in a situation where we have a traditional starter that is going to be in the bullpen, there will be some evolution into that role.”

Price is different than former pitching coach Chris Young, who was dismissed after last season. He is more traditional than Young, who came from an analytical background. Price is a big believer in building relationships.

“We’re losing some connectivity a little bit, and not just in baseball,” Price said. “Human relationships are not what they once were. In baseball, you had a bat and a ball and a kid went out there and worked on baseball. Now you can come in here and spend six hours before a game in front of a computer screen or reading through a lot of statistical stuff. I love the relationships. That’s why I wanted to come back to baseball.”

Price said he is learning more about analytics and new technologies, and their role in today’s game. He must.

“Using it as a way to make something good better,” Price said. “Utilize it to find the fly in the ointment and go about it that way. But I still believe, fundamentally, that pitchers have to command the strike zone, they have to pitch aggressively, they have to control the count and they have to pitch to their strengths. The game has evolved to where, at times, we have all this data, but at times we’ve oversimplified pitching. Let’s get four-pitch starters back out there that command the strike zone. [Throwing] 95-plus [mph] is great, but if you can’t manage the strike zone, typically you’re not going to be effective.”

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