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Notes: Harper wants this prospect in Philly

@ToddZolecki
July 17, 2020

PHILADELPHIA -- Bryce Harper’s words travel fast. He sent a clear message Thursday night on Twitch, when he said: “If Spencer Howard isn’t starting in our rotation by Game 6 in New York against the New York Yankees, there’s a problem. That’s all I’ll say.” Howard, of course, is the

PHILADELPHIA -- Bryce Harper’s words travel fast.

He sent a clear message Thursday night on Twitch, when he said: “If Spencer Howard isn’t starting in our rotation by Game 6 in New York against the New York Yankees, there’s a problem. That’s all I’ll say.”

Howard, of course, is the No. 34 prospect in baseball, according to MLB Pipeline. He tossed three scoreless innings earlier that night in a scrimmage at Citizens Bank Park. He impressed more than just Harper.

Howard’s parents called their son on Friday morning to ask how he was feeling. His father mentioned Harper’s comments. They heard before he did.

“Then I saw it on the way over here,” Howard said Friday afternoon. “I guess it spread pretty quickly.”

“Yeah, well, I mean, you know, that’s a statement,” Phillies manager Joe Girardi said, chuckling at Harper’s Twitch talk. “I think that we would probably stay on rotation and Aaron [Nola] would pitch Game 6, but Spencer has been impressive. And I think at some point you’re going to see this kid help us this year.”

The big league debuts of Howard (Phillies' No. 2 prospect) and Alec Bohm (No. 1) will be sources of speculation and opinion until they are promoted, which is expected at some point in 2020. Howard complements a mid-90s fastball with an impressive curveball, changeup and slider. It is easy to see him baffling National League East hitters. He could push the back end of the Phillies’ rotation for a job soon enough. If not the rotation, Howard certainly can help in the bullpen.

Bohm is baseball’s No. 30 prospect, according to MLB Pipeline. He is a power-hitting third baseman, but he is comfortable at first base. Of course, the Phillies have Jean Segura at third and Rhys Hoskins at first, so Bohm’s path to the big leagues is a little more complicated. Bohm could see plate appearances at DH, too.

But although both are talented and the Phillies consider both important pieces of their future, the team is unlikely to have either on the Opening Day roster because of service time considerations. If the Phillies do not place them on the big league roster until the sixth day of the season or later, they can gain an extra season of team control.

Essentially, if they promote either player on July 29 or later, they will become a free agent after 2026 instead of '25.

“It’s part of it,” Howard said. “There’s not much than I can do about it other than take care of my work every day and try to get a little bit better and keep progressing and what they choose to do is up to them. But I think as far as just keeping everything that I can control, keep that rolling. That’s my mindset toward it.”

Bohm echoed that sentiment.

“There’s no hard feelings about it,” Bohm said. “It is what it is. That’s a thing they can do. That’s a smart business move. I’m not going to hold any grudge over it or raise a stink about it. It’s part of the game. Everybody’s gone through it.”

Harper went through it in 2012. He made his big league debut on April 28 that season because it allowed the Nationals to keep him in their uniform through 2018.

“It’s cool, man,” Howard said about Harper’s support. “Obviously he’s been one of the faces of baseball forever, and for him to be [signed to be] a Philadelphia Phillie for 13 years, I think he’s definitely looking out for younger guys coming up in the system and he’s trying to integrate them into the whole Phillies organization, so I think it’s really cool.”

Hunter’s return
Right-hander Tommy Hunter not only rejoined the team Friday following his bout with COVID-19, but he pitched an inning.

“He’ll continue to gather steam as he gets a few more outings,” Girardi said. “We hope that he has two more outings before Opening Day so we can make a decision. But I thought he looked pretty good.”

Extra bases
• The Phillies are playing the Nationals in an exhibition in Washington on Saturday. Nola, who is facing Nationals ace Max Scherzer, is scheduled to pitch four innings. If it goes well, he is expected to start on Opening Day next Friday against the Marlins.

• The Phillies are bringing their everyday lineup to D.C., except for J.T. Realmuto. He is scheduled to catch right-hander Zach Eflin in a two-inning simulated game at Citizens Bank Park.

• Right-hander Victor Arano is behind schedule following his recovery from an injured right shoulder. The Phillies hope he makes two more appearances before Opening Day.

• Non-roster invitee Mikie Mahtook has returned from the coronavirus.

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