If the Phillies don’t hit much this weekend, they should get Milli Vanilli back together for the first concert at fully reopened Citizens Bank Park.
Or maybe they should just blame it on the rain.
After tying a club record with seven homers and scoring a week’s worth (for them) of runs in Tuesday night’s 17-3 trouncing of the Reds, the last thing the Phillies needed was a day off. But that’s what they got Wednesday when it rained in Cincinnati. They’ll get another, a scheduled one, today before the Washington Nationals come to town tomorrow night.
How long do unused bats stay hot?
You’re signed up to get this newsletter in your inbox every weekday during the season. If you like what you’re reading, tell your friends it’s free to sign up here. I want to know what you think, what we should add, and what you want to read, so send me feedback by email or on Twitter @ScottLauber. Thank you for reading.
— Scott Lauber (email@example.com)
Phillies weighing how hard to ride Nola, Wheeler, Eflin in June
Since the beginning of the 2018 season, Aaron Nola has made 91 starts, more than any other pitcher in baseball. It’s a testament to his durability, which stems from a conditioning plan that manager Joe Girardi (and Gabe Kapler before him) often holds up as a model for between-starts diligence.
But the Phillies have also gotten Nola to the mound as often as possible.
Although they take advantage of days off in the schedule to give extra rest to other starters, the Phillies prefer to start Nola every fifth day, especially late in seasons. He started on regular rest in 13 of 17 starts in the last three Septembers, even when there were some opportunities for an extra day off, because every win was precious and the Phillies believed Nola gave them the best chance to win.
That brings us to this month. The Phillies have six days off in June, not including Wednesday’s rainout. They play five games in a row once until June 25, when they begin a stretch of 18 games in 17 days before the All-Star break. It’s an unusual amount of idle time.
It’s also no surprise that the Phillies are talking about getting as much from Nola, Zack Wheeler, and Zach Eflin — as many as 18 starts in 24 games — as they can.
“I think it’s a possibility,” Girardi said. “I think what we have to weigh is the number of innings that they’re going to amass by doing this. Wheeler has a lot of innings. So does Nola. So does Eflin. And we have to kind of weigh those things.”
It’s more complicated this year, too. Girardi has pooh-poohed the potential effect of last year’s 60-game schedule on starters who are accustomed to carrying a heavy workload. But nobody can say for certain how pitchers will react, especially in the second half of the season. Injuries are up across the league for many reasons, and the pandemic-shortened 2020 season almost surely is one factor.
Besides, of the Phillies’ top three starters, Nola is the only one who has reached the 200-inning mark. Wheeler got close in 2018 (182 1/3) and 2019 (195 1/3). Eflin’s career high is 163 1/3 innings in 2019.
And pushing Nola down the stretch the last three years didn’t pay off. Looking back, he insists it wasn’t too much. But whether or not Nola fatigued, his ERA over the last three Septembers (4.44) was considerably higher than his overall ERA in those seasons (3.13). And the Phillies were 5-12 in his September starts.
First-year pitching coach Caleb Cotham said last week he isn’t concerned with Nola’s workload. But he’s also aware that Nola might benefit from a breather every now and again.
“Is there a 15-pitch blow, is there an inning blow that we can give him?” Cotham said. “We’ll probably find spots if there’s a way to give him a blow, an extra day. But for him, I think it’s business as usual. He’s feeling great. He’s recovering well. The routine has stayed the same. We’re just going to keep cooking with that.”
Nola grappled with command issues Tuesday night in Cincinnati but allowed three runs in five innings to snap a four-start winless streak. After the game, he said he hadn’t been told whether he will start Sunday on regular rest against the Nationals or Tuesday night against the Atlanta Braves on two additional days’ rest.
The Phillies have not yet revealed their pitching plans for the weekend. After Wednesday’s rainout, they could go with rookie Spencer Howard on Friday night followed by Wheeler and Eflin on Saturday and Sunday. It’s unlikely, though, that the Phillies want Wheeler and Eflin to go six days between starts. If they start the first two games against the Nationals, the choice Sunday would come down to Vince Velasquez or Nola.
“We are discussing different things and different options,” Girardi said. “We’ll check the pulse of everyone and how everyone’s doing. But those things are all in discussions right now. We know we don’t have to make a decision today on that. But obviously we’re talking about that.”
Everyone can see that Alec Bohm is frustrated, but as Matt Breen writes, he looked downright despondent Saturday after making another costly error. Maybe three hits Tuesday night will help turn around Bohm’s season.
The Phillies will return to Cincinnati on Monday, June 28, to make up Wednesday’s game.
It’s clear by now that the Phillies are the worst defensive team in baseball. I asked around to find out what Dave Dombrowski might be able to do to fix it.
Today: Phillies are off.
Tomorrow: Eight-game homestand begins at fully reopened CBP, 7:05 p.m.
Saturday/Sunday: Nats, Phillies continue their series, 4:05/1:05 p.m.
Monday: Phillies are off. Again.
Tuesday: The Braves come to town for a three-game series, 7:05 p.m.
Stat of the day
Reasons abound for why the Phillies are averaging 4.1 runs, down from 5.1 last season. But here’s a big one: Bryce Harper, J.T. Realmuto, and Didi Gregorius have been together in the lineup for only 20 of 55 games — and not at all since May 11.
Harper has missed 17 games with assorted injuries, most recently a bruised left wrist/forearm. Realmuto spent time on the injured list with a bruised hand. Gregorius has been out since May 12 because of swelling in his right elbow.
With all three in the lineup, the Phillies have averaged 4.7 runs and posted an 11-9 record. With at least one absent, they have averaged of 3.7 runs and gone 15-20.
From the mailbag
Send questions by email or on Twitter @ScottLauber.
Question: Well, the season is nearly a third of the way through, and Alec Bohm doesn’t seem able to snap out of his funk. Any chance the Phils are considering sending him to Allentown so he can get back on track? Keep up the good work with Extra Innings! — Don D., via email
Answer: Many thanks, Don, for reading. Glad you’re enjoying the newsletter.
I believe the Phillies might consider sending down Bohm if they had a viable replacement. But they haven’t put Luke Williams on the 40-man roster, and now he’s with Team USA at the Olympics qualifying tournament. And unless you want to see Ronald Torreyes and Nick Maton in the lineup every day, or Brad Miller at third base, there isn’t much choice but to let Bohm play his way out of it at the major-league level.