Phillies prioritizing pitching before the July 30 trade deadline
Pitching is always a precious commodity. But after last year's shortened schedule, and with COVID-19 still impacting rosters, most contenders are pursuing mound depth.
NEW YORK -- Eight days before the trade deadline, the Phillies are hunting for help for both the rotation and bullpen, according to multiple sources, which hardly differentiates them from pretty much every team that will fancy itself a playoff contender in the last week of July.
Pitching in all forms, from high-end starters to long relievers, is always a precious commodity. But this year, as teams acclimate to a full season after the 60-game schedule in 2020 -- and with COVID-19 still impacting many clubs, regardless of their vaccine rate -- the importance of pitching depth is multiplied.
“That’s probably safe to say because there is so much uncertainty,” Phillies manager Joe Girardi said Wednesday. “And your pitching depth, as we know, was really going to be tested this year because of COVID and COVID protocols.”
It was going to be tested anyway. Entering the season, the great unknown was how pitchers would hold up over a full season after throwing a fraction of their typical workload last year. It’s not a surprise that injuries have risen this year, and the longer the season goes, the likelihood of pitching attrition may increase.
Until recently, the Phillies were lucky. Their top three starters -- Aaron Nola, Zack Wheeler, and Zach Eflin -- made all of their starts until the final game before the All-Star break when Nola was placed on the COVID-19 restricted list after being identified as a close contact of third baseman Alec Bohm, who tested positive.
Nola returned to the mound for a 6-4 loss to the Yankees on Tuesday night, a few hours after Eflin went on the injured list with right patellar tendinitis, a knee injury that will sideline him until at least next Tuesday and cause him to miss a minimum of two starts.
Rookie left-hander Bailey Falter may have started in Eflin’s place Wednesday night. But Falter is on the COVID-19 restricted list. Of the five Phillies players who have gone on the list since July 10, four were pitchers.
The Phillies reached down to triple-A Lehigh Valley and recalled Spencer Howard to start against the Yankees in a bullpen game that also featured rookie left-hander Cristopher Sánchez, who was called up as a fill-in during the previous COVID-19 outbreak and gave up one run in three innings July 11 in Boston.
Because the Phillies are among seven teams that haven’t reached MLB’s 85% vaccination threshold to ease COVID-19 protocols, they are more susceptible to having their depth tested by the virus. But Girardi noted that infections rates are beginning to rise because of the new Delta variant. And although vaccinated players and staff aren’t subjected to MLB’s contact tracing, “that doesn’t mean you don’t spread it to someone who isn’t vaccinated,” Girardi said.
“A lot of people that are getting it are vaccinated,” Girardi added. “They’re not having any symptoms, but it takes other [unvaccinated] people out and that’s the danger. You have to have a ton of depth in your pitching. From day to day, you just don’t know.”
While some deals have already been made (the Atlanta Braves acquired outfielder Joc Pederson and catcher Stephen Vogt, for instance), trade talks aren’t expected to really heat up until next week.
Texas Rangers right-hander Kyle Gibson is among the bigger-name starters who could move. The previous Phillies front office had interest in Gibson two winters ago before he signed with Texas and the Phillies pivoted to Wheeler. Gibson has a 2.86 ERA this season for the Rangers and one year at $7.6 million left on his contract.
The starter market figures to be larger, but there’s also great demand for bullpen help. The biggest name there: Chicago Cubs closer Craig Kimbrel, acquired by Phillies president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski in 2015 when he ran the Boston Red Sox’s front office.
Bohm not ready
For a second consecutive day after getting cleared to rejoin the team, third baseman Alec Bohm went through a pregame workout, including infield practice. But Girardi said he likely will need to go out on a brief minor-league rehab assignment before being reinstated from the COVID-19 restricted list.
Bohm tested positive for COVID-19 on July 10 and had to isolate for 10 days, according to MLB’s protocols. During that time, he didn’t have access to team facilities. It’s doubtful that Bohm will be back on the active roster until the weekend and possibly not until early next week.
“He just wasn’t able to do much,” Girardi said. “Obviously you’ve got to clear some hurdles, and I would think that he would probably go play in some games.”
Bohm was finally beginning to heat up at the plate, too. In 28 games before testing positive, he was 30-for-94 (.319) with five doubles, two homers, and an .827 OPS. He had two hits, including a homer, before being removed from a July 10 game at Fenway Park.
Center fielder Odúbel Herrera (left ankle tendinitis) played for a second consecutive night for triple-A Lehigh Valley and could return from the injured list by Thursday or Friday. ... Reliever Sam Coonrod (right forearm tendinitis) continued his rehab assignment with Lehigh Valley. He’s scheduled to pitch again Thursday night and is on track to be activated Sunday. ... Moore (0-1, 5.25 ERA) will start Thursday night’s opener of a four-game series against the Braves, who will counter with right-hander Charlie Morton (8-3, 3.69).