Nine games into the Phillies’ 28-game Grapefruit League schedule, Bryce Harper hasn’t played right field yet, the bullpen looks better, and Odúbel Herrera appears to be leading the center-field race.

Just as we all predicted, right?

Opening day is three weeks away, ample time for more surprises. Will J.T. Realmuto’s fractured right thumb heal in time for April 1? Can the Phillies create room for three, maybe even four nonroster invitees on the 40-man roster? Will Spencer Howard make the team?

The next 21 days are going to be interesting.

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— Scott Lauber (extrainnings@inquirer.com)

Vinny Velo: Pitching depth or a 40-man roster clog?

Vince Velasquez changed agents in the offseason, leaving Scott Boras for Creative Artists Agency. But he didn’t need anyone to inform him that there was a chance the Phillies would trade him — or even not tender him a contract — in December.

“I knew what I was going up against,” Velasquez said Tuesday. “I knew I was going to be in a tight situation of whether they did want me or whether they didn’t. I was OK with if they were going to let me go. Then I’d understand and I would tip off my cap and thank the organization for everything.”

But the Phillies kept Velasquez because they know the value of pitching depth. You can’t have enough, especially as pitchers brace for the rigors of a full season after the 60-game schedule in 2020. And they don’t have very many major-league-caliber arms at the upper levels of the farm system.

So, even though the Phillies subsequently signed starters Matt Moore and Chase Anderson, they still have use for Velasquez as a long man in the bullpen and insurance for when a starter gets injured.

If the Phillies were willing to bring back Velasquez for $4 million three months ago, why would they consider trading him now?

Well, the Phillies could face a roster crunch before spring training ends. Relievers Brandon Kintzler and Tony Watson, Herrera, and lefty bench bat Matt Joyce are candidates to make the team. But first they must be added to the 40-man roster, which is at capacity.

In the last two years, the Phillies protected 10 minor leaguers from the Rule 5 draft by adding them to the roster. They could try sneaking a few (left-handers Kyle Dohy and Cristopher Sánchez, for instance) through waivers and hope they go unclaimed. But shedding young talent for role-playing veterans isn’t usually wise.

The Phillies gauged interest in Velasquez during the offseason. He’s 28, with an ERA that has risen in each of the last three seasons (4.85 to 4.91 to 5.56). It’s doubtful he would bring back more than a midlevel prospect.

But the Phillies might welcome the roster spot. And with the luxury-tax payroll pushing $200 million, trading Velasquez would mean saving $4 million that could be used for an in-season move before the trade deadline.

Velasquez seems to understand that it’s a possibility. It would be an unceremonious ending for one of the first players acquired by then-general manager Matt Klentak.

“Coming in 2016, I was supposed to be this potential ace guy after that trade for [closer Ken] Giles, but at the same time, [stuff] happens,” Velasquez said. “I came to the conclusion that this is my last opportunity that I could possibly have [with the Phillies], and I definitely don’t want to end on a bad note at all.”

So, does Velasquez expect to be on the Phillies’ opening-day roster?

“I don’t know what’s going to happen,” he said. “But it’s not going to stop me from competing. If it happens, it happens. Whatever organization I land in, you’re going to get a new guy mentally and physically, a guy trying to win and figure things out.”

The rundown

Before the Phillies think about trading Velasquez, they should give him one more shot to succeed in the bullpen, Bob Brookover writes.

Really enjoyed this story by Matt Breen, who talked to Del Unser, Matt Stairs, and Kevin Frandsen about the art of pinch hitting, which will be back in fashion with no DH in the National League.

It’s unlikely that Mickey Moniak will be the Phillies’ opening-day center fielder. But with each passing game and every extra-base hit, the former No. 1 overall pick becomes more difficult to dismiss.

Matt Moore is looking good for one of the final two spots in the starting rotation.

Manager Joe Girardi said the Phillies must be “open-minded” about how they use Spencer Howard. Could that mean beginning the season in the bullpen? That’s how Archie Bradley started out with Arizona in 2017.

The Phillies will honor the memory of Dick Allen with a patch on their uniforms, as Matt reports.

Tragic news: Former Phillies reliever Rheal Cormier died Monday of cancer. He was 53.

Important dates

Today: Spencer Howard faces Tigers in Clearwater, 1:05 p.m. (NBCSP+)

Tomorrow: Aaron Nola starts vs. Yankees in Clearwater, 1:05 p.m. (NBCSP+)

Friday: Phillies visit the Orioles in Sarasota, 1:05 p.m.

March 29: Spring-training finale vs. Blue Jays, 1:05 p.m.

April 1: Opening day vs. Braves at Citizens Bank Park, 3:05 p.m.

Stat of the day

In his spring-training debut for the Phillies last Friday, lefty reliever Jose Alvarado threw nine pitches. Eight were strikes. Two clocked in at 100 mph.

As first impressions go, it was, well, impressive.

How impressive? Consider this: Since the beginning of the 2016 season, only two Phillies pitchers have registered a triple-digit radar reading, according to Statcast. Luis Garcia did it once (Sept. 2, 2018, against the Cubs’ Ian Happ); Seranthony Dominguez had seven 100-mph pitches, six of which came in 2018.

Only the Brewers (6), Orioles (5), Diamondbacks (1), and Indians (0) have thrown fewer 100-mph pitches over the last five seasons. Alvarado threw 35 pitches of at least 100 mph for the Rays since his major-league debut in 2017.

From the mailbag

Send questions by email or on Twitter @ScottLauber.

Answer: Thanks, Steve, for the question. Dominguez had Tommy John elbow surgery on July 30 of last year. Typically, it takes 12 to 15 months for pitchers to come back. I suppose it’s possible that he will return at some point this season, but Girardi said the Phillies aren’t counting on it. More likely in 2022.

Answer: Hey, Dan. Thank you, as always, for the question and for being a loyal reader. What was Blutarsky’s grade-point average in Animal House? Zero point zero? That’s about the percentage that I’d give Kingery starting in triple A. At worst, he will begin the season on the Phillies bench.