Hunter out at least two weeks with flexor strain
Kapler focused on strengthening arms via intense spring BP sessions
CLEARWATER, Fla. -- The Phillies’ bullpen depth could be tested early this season if Tommy Hunter is not ready to pitch.
The Phillies said Tuesday that Hunter has a Grade 1 flexor strain in his right arm. He will not throw for two weeks. That clock started four days ago, meaning Hunter might not begin throwing until March 9 at the earliest.
It is unclear if Hunter will have enough time to be ready for Opening Day on March 28 against the Braves at Citizens Bank Park.
The Phillies have plenty of depth to pick up the slack. David Robertson, Seranthony Dominguez, Hector Neris, Pat Neshek, Adam Morgan, Jose Alvarez and Juan Nicasio are probably favorites to make the bullpen on Opening Day. If Hunter is not ready, right-handers Vìctor Arano, Edubray Ramos and Yacksel Rios, or left-handers James Pazos and Austin Davis will be in the mix to take a spot. Each has options remaining.
Where is everybody?
The few Phillies fans not completely consumed by Bryce Harper over the past few days might have noticed that nobody expected to be in the Phils’ rotation has pitched in a Grapefruit League game.
It is by design.
Phillies manager Gabe Kapler explained Tuesday that the team is trying to build up the arm strength of its pitchers by having them pitch in intense live batting-practice sessions to ensure they get their work in.
“One of the things we’ve seen in past Spring Trainings is starters running higher pitch counts, and needing to come out of Spring Training games without getting to their necessary workload to effectively build them up,” Kapler said. “By letting them build volume in these live BPs, we can safely control the environment. We feel that a consistent ramp-up period will lead to the best outcomes for our guys both from a strength and a health perspective.”
Kapler said his pitchers are aware of this “road map” and will be ready to pitch deep into games in the first week of the season.
Prospects Cole Irvin (Wednesday vs. Twins), Enyel De Los Santos (Thursday vs. Orioles), Adonis Medina (Thursday vs. Blue Jays in Dunedin) and Drew Anderson (Friday vs. Pirates) will pitch the rest of the week.
The rotation finally flips to the big leaguers over the weekend. Zach Eflin will pitch Saturday vs. the Rays in Port Charlotte. Jake Arrieta will pitch Sunday vs. the Twins in Fort Myers. Aaron Nola and Nick Pivetta will pitch March 5 vs. the Cardinals and Vince Velasquez will pitch March 6 vs. the Blue Jays in Dunedin.
“The obvious side benefit of all of this is that we get a long look at some of our up-and-coming arms in starting roles against Major League hitters,” Kapler said.
The Phillies-Yankees game was rained out in Tampa on Tuesday. The Phils will be back in action Wednesday at 1:05 p.m. ET in Clearwater against the Twins, with Ranger Suarez making his spring debut.