It probably isn’t a coincidence that Spencer Howard’s starts this month for triple-A Lehigh Valley have come on the same days -- May 5, 11, and 16 -- as Chase Anderson’s last three starts for the Phillies.
But if you’re thinking the Phillies are poised to replace their No. 5 starter with their top prospect, well, guess again.
Never mind that Anderson gave up seven runs in 1 1/3 innings in the worst start of his career last Sunday against the Toronto Blue Jays. Or that he has a 6.96 ERA in eight starts overall this season. Or that Howard is eating into his innings count each time he takes the mound in the minors. Anderson remains on track to start Saturday night against the Boston Red Sox at Citizens Bank Park, while Howard is scheduled to make his next start for Lehigh Valley.
“I think it comes down to us feeling good about where he’s at,” manager Joe Girardi said of Howard, who has allowed one earned run on three hits and five walks and racked up 13 strikeouts in nine innings over three triple-A starts. “Stats are one thing, right? Using your pitches and executing all your pitches is another.”
Girardi clarified that Howard’s numbers don’t necessarily belie his development. He said he watched Howard’s most recent start on video and thought he looked “really good.” But Girardi also noted that the front office, pitching coaches, and minor league coordinators have reported back that it’s not time yet to turn Howard loose.
The Phillies haven’t divulged their target for Howard’s workload this season other than to indicate they will be conservative. The 24-year-old right-hander dealt with shoulder stiffness in each of the last two seasons. He barely threw 100 innings, including the Arizona Fall League, in 2019, and made his major-league debut last August and underwhelmed with a 5.92 ERA in 24 1/3 innings over six starts last year.
Regardless of where Howard pitches this season, president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski said last month that he isn’t likely to pitch more than four innings per start to keep him going for the entire season.
“What we would love is for him to help us however he possibly can and continue to develop and pitch enough innings to get to that point where you can comfortably say, ‘OK, he’s pitched enough that we can count on him being a part of our starting rotation next year,’” Dombrowski said by phone last month. “That would be our goal with him. And that’s a lot of things to do at one time.”
Perhaps the Phillies will revisit the situation depending on how Anderson fares Saturday. Another stinker could force their hand to bring up Howard.
“There’s a difference between triple-A and the big leagues,” Girardi said. “So a lot of times you want to see them executing everything and then you make evaluations after each start and you go from there.”
J.T.’s wrist ‘feeling better’
J.T. Realmuto extended his left wrist to reveal the residual swelling that kept him out of the lineup for a third game in a row Wednesday night. But the Phillies continue to believe he won’t need to be placed on the injured list, a move that would leave him unable to play until at least next Wednesday.
“That was an option, but we didn’t think it was necessary because of how rapidly it was feeling better,” Realmuto said. “It was definitely something we were talking about the last two days. But we made the decision on Monday that it was close enough to being ready that I didn’t need to go on the IL.”
Realmuto was injured when he took a game-ending wild pitch from reliever David Hale off the wrist in the 10th inning of an April 29 loss in St. Louis. The swelling subsided before returning last week during Realmuto’s one-day stay on the COVID-19 list after being identified as a contact of someone who tested positive.
Upon his return, Realmuto said he likely will wear a pad that attaches to his glove for extra protection of his wrist.
“The swelling is down quite a bit from where it was,” he said. “It’s in a lot better shape than it was three days ago. Hopefully within the next day or two it will be quite a bit better.”
Fans will no longer be required to wear masks at games at Citizens Bank Park beginning Friday night in accordance with the city’s decision to lift its outdoor mask requirement. The Phillies recommend that unvaccinated fans wear masks, but it’s not required. ... One day after going on the injured list with persistent swelling in his right elbow, shortstop Didi Gregorius fielded grounders but did not throw. The inflammation was “a little bit better,” according to Girardi. Gregorius isn’t eligible to return until at least Monday. ... With tough lefty Trevor Rogers starting for the Marlins, lefty-hitting Nick Maton began the game on the bench. The rookie infielder entered the game with six hits in his last 12 at-bats. ... Vince Velasquez, who has a 2.84 ERA in five starts since entering the rotation, will start Thursday night’s series finale against Marlins right-hander Sandy Alcantara.