Aaron Nola will start the Phillies’ opener Friday, but the rest of the starting rotation remains unclear just days before the start of a 60-game season.
“There just happens to be a lot of moving parts,” manager Joe Girardi said before Monday night’s exhibition against the Yankees in New York.
The Phillies planned to follow Nola, who will face Miami on Friday night at Citizens Bank Park, with Zack Wheeler on Saturday, but Wheeler’s status for the weekend is uncertain because his wife, Dominique, is due to deliver the couple’s first baby.
Zach Eflin is expected to be in the rotation, but his status depends on how he feels Thursday following a simulated game. The right-hander has been slowed this month by back spasms.
The Phillies could replace Wheeler on Saturday with Nick Pivetta and start Vince Velasquez on Sunday. Eflin, if healthy, could pitch Tuesday against the Yankees on normal rest if Jake Arrieta starts Monday against the Yankees.
The Phillies seem to know who their starters are -- Nola, Wheeler, Eflin, Arrieta, and Velasquez -- but Nola is the only one who has a date to pitch.
“After that, there’s some things we have to work through,” Girardi said.
There was little surprise that Nola would start the opener, but the Phillies wanted to see how he responded after his start Saturday in Washington before making it official.
Nola was late to summer camp after coming in contact with a person infected with COVID-19, but he did not seem to lose much time to prepare for the season. He will become just the fourth homegrown Phillies pitcher since 1950 to start three straight openers, joining Robin Roberts, Chris Short, and Brett Myers.
“I feel like I’m ready,” Nola said after pitching five strong innings Saturday. “I think the five up and downs that I did definitely helped. I think that’s the biggest thing for starters, especially me. Just to start and stop every inning, get off the mound. It’s good conditioning for me to be ready.”
It felt a bit awkward, Girardi said, to enter Yankee Stadium on Monday night for the first time since he was fired as Yankees manager following the 2017 season.
“I always came in through the garage, down the stairs, into the home clubhouse,” said Girardi, who managed in the Bronx for 10 seasons and won a World Series in 2009 against the Phillies. “This time, we came in through the loading dock from center field and all the way around. That was different. I did see a lot of familiar faces, so that seemed kind of normal. But you’re on the opposite side and that’s different.”
Anthony Swarzak became the fourth veteran reliever released by the Phillies in the last few weeks as the team is moving toward entering the season with a bullpen reliant on young arms.
Swarzak, 34, was one of the handful of veterans the Phillies added in the offseason on minor-league deals with the hope they could shore up an unproven bullpen. Instead, the Phillies released 32-year-old Drew Storen, 35-year-old Bud Norris, 36-year-old Francisco Liriano, and Swarzak before the season even begins.
The Phillies will begin the season with 11 relief pitchers, which could provide opportunities for prospects such as Damon Jones and Connor Brogdon to crack the opening-day bullpen.