Key decisions ahead: Phils' No. 5 starter, 'pen

March 6th, 2020

CLEARWATER, Fla. -- Opening Day for the Phillies is less than three weeks away. It may sound like a comfortable amount of time for making decisions, but a glance at the schedule shows only 17 Grapefruit League games left to play before it’s time to finalize the 26-man roster.

Here are five of the most pressing issues for fans about the decisions ahead.

Who will be the No. 5 starter?
, and continue to compete for the No. 5 job. Pivetta and Velasquez entered camp as Nos. 1 and 1A because they have better stuff and more upside than Suárez.

Suárez arguably has outpitched both to this point, but it would be an upset if he wins the job. He has allowed one unearned run, five hits and one walk in five innings, with four strikeouts. He faces a good test on Saturday, when the Phillies host the Red Sox at Spectrum Field.

Pivetta has allowed seven runs, 10 hits and four walks in 7 2/3 innings, with 10 strikeouts. A couple of defensive miscues cost him some runs on Wednesday against the Yankees.

Velasquez has allowed one run, five hits and two walks in five innings, with three strikeouts.

Phillies manager Joe Girardi said he would like somebody to claim the No. 5 job sooner rather than later, but that the competition will continue as long as nobody has separated himself. To this point, nobody has.

Who’s in the bullpen?
Héctor Neris, Jose Alvarez and Adam Morgan are the only locks. Seranthony Domínguez is a good bet. He made his Grapefruit League debut on Thursday. His fastball was 95-plus mph, and the Phillies believe it could improve in the coming weeks. If Domínguez is healthy, expect to see him in the bullpen.

The two runners-up in the rotation battle become strong bets to get bullpen jobs.

That leaves two job openings. Pitchers on the 40-man roster typically have an edge over the others. Players without options also have an edge because so much of roster construction is about numbers and future flexibility.

remains a possibility, although he has not pitched in a game yet. The Phillies are more optimistic about him than Tommy Hunter, who is expected to open the season on the injured list. Right-hander has allowed two runs, seven hits and two walks in 4 2/3 innings, with six strikeouts. The numbers do not impress, but he is worth watching because the Phillies like what they saw from him last season at Triple-A in the Brewers organization, and because he is out of options. He will get every opportunity to prove himself. Others on the 40-man roster -- Garrett Cleavinger, Austin Davis, Edgar Garcia, Mauricio Llovera, Reggie McLain, JoJo Romero -- are likely to open the season in the Minors.

Non-roster invitee has a line on a job. He has walked four and struck out two in three scoreless, hitless innings. Other veteran non-roster invitees -- Bud Norris, Blake Parker, Drew Storen and Anthony Swarzak -- are competing for a spot, but only Liriano has separated himself from the pack. Liriano, Swarzak and Parker have March 19 opt-out clauses. If they trigger those clauses, the Phillies will have 48 hours to place them on the roster. We will know their fates before Philadelphia has to decide about Storen (June 15) and Norris (June 30).

Who’s the leadoff hitter?
Girardi said on Monday that while Andrew McCutchen is sidelined, candidates to lead off include Scott Kingery, one of his center fielders (Roman Quinn or Adam Haseley) and J.T. Realmuto. If Quinn is healthy, he seems like an ideal choice. But Realmuto has put up some impressive numbers in the leadoff spot. A catcher leading off? It could happen.

Who’s on the bench?
There are three bench jobs available. Expect the Phillies to pick the best hitters in the bunch because Didi Gregorius, Jean Segura and Kingery each can play shortstop, meaning the Phillies won’t need to add a glove guy who can play everywhere, because they already have a trio who can play everywhere.

Neil Walker, Logan Forsythe, Josh Harrison and Phil Gosselin are non-roster invitees. Give Walker a slight edge as a switch-hitter, while the others all hit right-handed. But it is hard to imagine the Phillies clearing three spots for three non-roster players, plus one or two in the bullpen. That’s why outfielders and are in the hunt. Garlick has some power and he hits right-handed, so theoretically he could platoon in left field with Jay Bruce while McCutchen is out of action. Garlick has options, which also helps his cause. The Phillies like Nick Martini, but he is not on the 40-man roster. He also hits left-handed, so there is replication with Harper, Bruce and Haseley.

Third base settled?
It looks like Segura will be the Opening Day third baseman, unless something unexpected happens. He has looked capable there, and he seems to enjoy playing next to Gregorius. It is the ideal outcome for the Phillies, because it allows Kingery to play second base.