CLEARWATER, Fla. - Manager Joe Girardi joked this week with pitching coach Bryan Price that the Phillies’ rotation competition was the reason he could not leave camp for a week of vacation. Instead, Girardi is being kept busy in Florida by a battle that still does not have a clear favorite.
Ranger Suarez pitched the first three innings of a 10-2 win over the Red Sox on Saturday and remained in the mix with Nick Pivetta and Vince Velasquez for the final spot in the rotation. Zach Eflin has not been guaranteed a spot, but he pitched Saturday morning in a simulated game and appears to be the No. 4 starter.
Suarez allowed two runs on five hits, with four strikeouts and no walks.
“I feel that I’m working hard,” Suárez said through an interpreter. “I want to show them that I’m getting the job done. The rest is really up to them.”
Girardi said, “Ranger is a guy that’s going to use both sides of the plate, which he did today. He’s going to throw his slider in to right-handers, away from left-handers. His change-up is very good. He knows how to compete.”
Pivetta, who pitched Wednesday against the Yankees, has allowed seven runs in 7⅔ innings. Suarez has allowed two earned runs in eight innings. Velasquez will pitch Sunday against the Blue Jays and has allowed one run in five innings. None of the pitchers has fallen out of the race.
“I said in the beginning that you obviously hope that it declares itself early on, so you can put the other guys in the roles that they need to be in,” Girardi said. “But it may not.”
Victor Arano is optimistic that he’ll be ready for opening day after the reliever faced batters for the first time on Saturday morning. Arano, who has been slowed by shoulder soreness, pitched batting practice at the Carpenter Complex.
He’s scheduled to throw one more session, after which he could pitch in a Grapefruit League game. If healthy, Arano would have an inside track for one of eight bullpen spots. He had a 2.73 ERA in 2018 with 9.1 strikeouts per nine innings over 60 games. But he pitched in just three games last season, because of an elbow injury that required surgery.
“I feel good,” Arano said. “I’m throwing hard. 94-95 [mph], maybe. In the bullpen, 92-93.”
Jeff Singer, a left-hander called over from minor-league camp for the day, struck out the three batters he faced in the fourth inning. The 26-year-old was born in Philadelphia and grew up in South Jersey.
He was working at a car dealership on Frankford Avenue in the Mayfair section of Northeast Philly when the Phillies offered him a contract in 2015. Last season, he pitched in 42 games at double-A Reading, with a 2.34 ERA and 10.8 strikeouts per nine innings.
“Wow. What an inning,” Girardi said. “I told him, ‘Easy old game, right?’ He just comes in and strikes out the side. Very good breaking ball and good fastball. His stuff was impressive.”
Andrew Knapp caught Eflin’s simulated game and had two at-bats against J.D. Hammer. It was a good sign for Knapp, who has been slowed since suffering a rib-cage injury at the start of spring training. He remains the favorite to be the backup catcher.
“You’ll see him in a game, I would think, next week,” Girardi said.
Velasquez will start Sunday in Dunedin against the Blue Jays. Velasquez has allowed one run this spring in five innings over two Grapefruit League games. Sunday’s game will not be televised, but it will be on radio on WIP-FM (94.1).