BRADENTON, Fla. -- With the hours ticking until the end of spring training, the Phillies had one opening-day roster decision remaining.
Victor Arano made it easier.
Arano was vying for the final spot in the bullpen and might have had the inside track earlier in camp. But his extreme struggles throughout the spring outweighed his strong track record over the past two seasons, and Arano and Yacksel Rios were optioned to triple-A Lehigh Valley on Saturday night, leaving Edubray Ramos as the team’s eighth reliever.
“You can discount one, two, three outings. It’s hard to discount five or six outings of struggle consecutively,” manager Gabe Kapler said of Arano. “We always weigh the track record of a performer like Arano. You still have to pay very close attention to what’s happening right in front of you.”
Earlier Saturday, Arano allowed another run in the Phillies’ 5-3 loss to the Pirates. He gave up 20 earned runs on 17 hits over seven Grapefruit League appearances, leaving his ERA at 45.00.
Arano, who has a 2.57 ERA over 70 career appearances since making his major-league debut in 2017 and emerged as a high-leverage option for Kapler last season, believes the problem stems from his release point, particularly when he has thrown his signature slider.
“It’s definitely something with my mechanics,” Arano said through a team translator. “I don’t know what it is. The release point is what I’m very focused on right now. I’m not worried about it. I’m just concerned that I haven’t been able to identify where that release point is right now. Because last year I was doing it so well, and that’s why I’m so confident that I can go back to it.”
Said Kapler: “I think it’s cause to really dig in on what’s happening for him both mentally and mechanically. I think he’s absolutely fine from a physical perspective. I think his legs are underneath him. I think he’s strong. I think his arm speed is fine. But today the ball didn’t come out great, and it’s worth having a conversation with him and really discussing what he needs to get back on track. Because at this point it hasn’t been very effective, and I think he knows there’s a better performance in him.”
Ramos, primarily a one-inning reliever, has a 6.75 ERA in seven Grapefruit League games. Rios, a hard-thrower who is less proven than Arano or Ramos, had a 0.82 ERA in nine appearances.
David Robertson, Seranthony Dominguez, Hector Neris, Pat Neshek, Juan Nicasio and lefties Adam Morgan and Jose Alvarez have secured their spots in the bullpen. Veteran right-hander Tommy Hunter, who would have made the team, will open the season on the injured list with a flexor strain.
Despite an encouraging camp in which he demonstrated he's healthy after carpal tunnel surgery in October, right-hander Jerad Eickhoff was optioned to triple-A
"I'm really happy with the progress and how I've been able to get out there and get some innings under my belt," Eickhoff said. "Just keep moving forward."
Kapler noted the sharpness of Eickhoff’s curveball. And Eickhoff noted how much he leaned on his breaking ball during a solid stretch in 2016 when he worked with catcher Carlos Ruiz.