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Notes: Pivetta, Nola, Velasquez start; TV games

@ToddZolecki
February 18, 2020

CLEARWATER, Fla. -- The competition begins Saturday. Phillies manager Joe Girardi has announced his starting pitchers for the team’s first three Grapefruit League games. Right-hander Nick Pivetta will start the opener Saturday against the Tigers at Publix Field at Joker Marchant Stadium in Lakeland, Fla.; righty Aaron Nola will start

CLEARWATER, Fla. -- The competition begins Saturday.

Phillies manager Joe Girardi has announced his starting pitchers for the team’s first three Grapefruit League games. Right-hander Nick Pivetta will start the opener Saturday against the Tigers at Publix Field at Joker Marchant Stadium in Lakeland, Fla.; righty Aaron Nola will start Sunday against the Pirates at Spectrum Field; and righty Vince Velasquez will start Monday against the Orioles at Spectrum Field.

Nola is the presumed Opening Day starter on March 26 in Miami, but Pivetta and Velasquez are competing for the No. 5 job in the rotation.

“I think it’s important that all these guys that are competing for the last spots get a ton of looks and we can afford to do that,” Girardi said on Tuesday afternoon. “We have a number of games, we have split squads. We’ll look at people. I think it’s important that we do that, that we’re fair to everyone, because it’s fair to the team that way.”

Nola, Zack Wheeler and Jake Arrieta are the top three pitchers in the rotation. Zach Eflin is expected to be the No. 4 starter, although the Phillies have said he is competing alongside Velasquez, Pivetta and left-hander Ranger Suárez.

The No. 5 job is unquestionably wide open.

“I think there will be a lot that goes into it,” Girardi said. “Performance is really important. It’s important. I’m not going to make probably anything of Start 1. As we go forward, each start gets a little bit more important, but I think it’s not fair to evaluate Start 1 and Start 2. That’s the buildup stage.”

Velasquez, 27, went 7-8 with a 4.91 ERA in 33 appearances (23 starts). He struck out 130 and walked 43 in 117 1/3 innings. Pivetta, 27, went 4-6 with a 5.38 ERA in 30 appearances (13 starts). He struck out 89 and walked 39 in 93 2/3 innings. Both opened last season in the rotation, but both struggled and moved to the bullpen at different points. Pivetta was twice optioned to Triple-A Lehigh Valley.

But the Phils believe both have untapped talent. Both have an impressive four-seam fastball. Pivetta has an elite-level curveball.

The runner-up in this battle likely will end up in the bullpen.

“Maybe if it’s close, and one guy is more capable in the bullpen, maybe you start thinking about that,” Girardi said about the decision-making process. “The bottom line is, we’re going to want our 13 best pitchers to go with us and we have to kind of put that puzzle together.”

If either Pivetta or Velasquez ends up in the bullpen, the Phillies ideally would like to have time to transition the newly minted reliever into the role before the end of Spring Training.

“That doesn’t mean it will happen [that way],” Girardi said. “If they make our job really difficult, it might get drawn out longer. And you can make it difficult two different ways -- [either] they’re all pitching good, or they’re all scuffling.”

They’re on TV
NBC Sports Philadelphia will broadcast 10 Grapefruit League games this spring, including four next week:
Sunday vs. Pittsburgh at 1:05 p.m.
Monday vs. Baltimore at 1:05 p.m.
Tuesday (split squad) vs. Toronto at 1:05 p.m.
Feb. 28 vs. Atlanta at 1:05 p.m.

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