TAMPA, Fla. — Just when it is beginning to look as if the Phillies’ starting rotation will open the season on time and intact, the bullpen may be in need of reinforcements.
Hard-throwing lefty José Alvarado has not appeared in a spring-training game because of neck stiffness that caused him to stop throwing for three days last week. And although the reliever played catch Tuesday for a second consecutive day, manager Joe Girardi admitted he’s “concerned” that Alvarado may not be ready for opening day.
“It’s kind of a gray area right now,” Girardi said. “Can he get ready?”
The Phillies will already be without reliever Sam Coonrod, who is bound for the injured list after an MRI revealed a right shoulder strain.
And then there’s the matter of right-hander Connor Brogdon. He’s scheduled to pitch Wednesday, and the Phillies will watch him closely. His velocity was down in his previous outing, when he walked three of the four batters he faced.
“That worries us [about] like, how close he is,” Girardi said. “We’re hoping there will be a little bit of an uptick these next couple of times.”
At least the starting rotation is coming into focus.
Zack Wheeler faced hitters again Tuesday and threw 33 pitches over two simulated innings. He’s slated to start against the Blue Jays on the road Saturday, one day after lefty Ranger Suárez is due to make his first spring-training start.
The Phillies continue to hope they will be able to start the fourth and fifth games of the season, respectively.
Given the likelihood that teams will be allowed to have a 28-man expanded roster in April, the Phillies are planning to carry 10 relievers. Corey Knebel, Jeurys Familia, Brad Hand, and Seranthony Domínguez are locks. Alvarado and Brogdon would be, too, if they’re healthy.
Beyond that, the Phillies would like to have at least three multiple-inning relievers to pitch behind Wheeler and Suárez, who will be limited early in the season. Bailey Falter, Cristopher Sánchez, and Nick Nelson have the inside track on those spots.
Nola takes fifth
Aaron Nola’s penultimate start before opening day went a lot like his previous two. He gave up four runs on five hits, including a two-run homer by Marwin Gonzalez, in a 14-2 Yankees victory. He has given up five homers in nine innings this spring.
But Nola also threw 60 pitches and worked into the fifth inning, no small achievement considering the slower-than-usual buildup for Wheeler and Suarez and the toll it may take on the bullpen early in the season.
“I thought he threw a number of good pitches,” Girardi said. “He was facing a pretty good lineup. He got beat by the bottom, did a good job on the top. But he’s pretty close, I think.”
Nola will aim for 75 pitches and six innings Sunday in his spring-training finale. That would leave him roughly one start behind schedule in a normal spring training and could line him up for about 80 to 90 pitches in the April 8 season opener against the Athletics at Citizens Bank Park.
“My main focus is to really get ahead of guys and get my delivery in sync and just pound the zone as much as I can, take out the walks,” Nola said. “And then just getting my up-downs and getting my pitch count up.”
Matt Vierling doubled off tough Yankees right-hander Chad Green, notable considering the Phillies are trying to decide whether to play him every day in center field or platoon him with lefty-hitting Mickey Moniak. ... It was a good day for backup catcher candidate Garrett Stubbs, who lined an RBI single and threw out Joey Gallo trying to steal second base. ... Third baseman Alec Bohm went 0-for-2 with a walk and is 2-for-21 overall this spring. ... Kyle Gibson will face the Tigers at 1:05 p.m. Wednesday in Clearwater, Fla. The game will be televised by NBC Sports Philadelphia+.