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Phils weighing piggyback starter options

Girardi wants Realmuto 'behind the plate as much as we can'
@ToddZolecki
August 10, 2020

PHILADELPHIA -- Is it strange that the Phillies are preparing two starters for Friday night’s series opener against the Mets? No, not really. Ahead of the Phils' 13-8 win over the Braves on Monday, Phillies manager Joe Girardi said that both Spencer Howard and Vince Velasquez will prepare to start

PHILADELPHIA -- Is it strange that the Phillies are preparing two starters for Friday night’s series opener against the Mets?

No, not really.

Ahead of the Phils' 13-8 win over the Braves on Monday, Phillies manager Joe Girardi said that both Spencer Howard and Vince Velasquez will prepare to start against New York at Citizens Bank Park. The Phils will announce the official starter in a few days. Girardi said the other pitcher could piggyback him. Or if the starter pitches well, the other could pitch in relief on Saturday. The important thing is this: The Phillies have five more seven-inning doubleheaders on the schedule, including one on Aug. 20 against the Blue Jays, so they will need six starters the rest of the way.

“We’re going to keep them both going as starters,” Girardi said.

Girardi said he likes the piggyback idea for a couple reasons: First, it means hitters are unlikely to see a pitcher more than twice, which is when many pitchers run into trouble. Second, it could give the other pitchers in the bullpen a break. In theory, Howard and Velasquez could each pitch four or more innings on Friday.

Of course, some Phillies fans might wonder if this could hinder Howard. He is the No. 36 prospect in baseball, and he has enough talent to become an ace.

But Girardi has experience bringing future starters into the big leagues as relievers.

Phil Hughes began his career as a starter with the Yankees in 2007-08, which was Girardi’s first season managing New York. Hughes battled injuries in ‘08, so the Yanks turned him into a reliever in '09. He went 5-1 with a 1.40 ERA in 44 relief appearances. Hughes rejoined the rotation in '10, making the American League All-Star team. He made 183 starts from '10-18.

Girardi enjoyed earlier success with Josh Johnson and Ricky Nolasco in Miami in 2006, when Girardi managed the Marlins. Johnson made seven relief appearances to start the season. He made 24 starts the rest of the way. Johnson developed into one of the game’s most dominant pitchers -- he held down the Phillies in Roy Halladay’s perfect game against Miami on May 29, 2010 -- until injuries derailed his career. Nolasco’s first 11 appearances with the Marlins in ’06 were out of the bullpen. He made 22 starts that season and 312 starts from '06-17 with the Marlins, Dodgers, Twins and Angels.

“You’re just careful with them,” Girardi said. “You try to have them start an inning. And if they do it more and more, then you get maybe a little more comfortable.”

Sign J.T.? How about more J.T.?
The Phillies played two doubleheaders in the past five days: Wednesday against the Yankees and Sunday against the Braves. J.T. Realmuto caught one-half of each doubleheader.

The Phillies have five more doubleheaders. Girardi said Realmuto could DH in the second game of those. It might not normally be a topic of conversation, except seven games is 11.7 percent of the 60-game schedule, and the Phils cannot afford to lose Realmuto’s production.

“We’re in a long stretch of games, and I want him behind the plate as much as we can,” Girardi said. “I could definitely see that.”

In Monday's win, Realmuto had a two-run homer and an RBI single.

Extra bases
Girardi said the Phillies hope to get their eyes on right-hander David Robertson and left-hander Ranger Suárez “pretty soon." Robertson is rehabbing from Tommy John surgery. Suárez suffered a difficult bout with COVID-19. The Phils could use both as bullpen reinforcements.

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