Perhaps you saw Spencer Howard’s stat line on Thursday night as the Phillies pitching prospect turned in another stellar minor-league outing, remembered how thin the team’s major-league rotation is, and allowed yourself to dream about the Phillies giving their playoff chances a shot in the arm by calling on their top pitcher in the minor leagues.
Gabe Kapler is dreaming right with you.
“I think Spencer has great stuff and he’s had tremendous results. Yesterday’s game was no exception,” Kapler said of Howard’s seven strikeouts on Thursday without a walk or earned run in six innings for double-A Reading. “I think everyone is kind of dreaming of what he can be, whether that happens at some point late this season or it happens next year, I think it’s inevitable that Spencer Howard is going to be on a big-league mound and I don’t think it will take very long.”
The Phillies starting rotation entered Friday’s series opener in Miami with a 4.62 ERA in August as they are trying to chase down a wild-card with Aaron Nola and four others.
Vince Velasquez started Friday night and allowed seven runs in the third inning after being spotted a 7-0 lead. Drew Smyly and Jason Vargas, veterans picked up in July to plug the team’s rotation holes, have been fine. Zach Eflin, who starts Saturday, returned from the bullpen after Jake Arrieta elected to have season-ending elbow surgery.
There is little question that the team could use a pitcher like Howard. The 23-year-old has a 1.80 ERA this season in 12 starts between high-A Clearwater and double-A Reading. The Phillies could choose to hold him back this season, bring him to the majors next spring, and delay his free agency by a year. But that’s a tough decision to make when the major-league club needs pitching and a playoff berth is on the line.
“I think those discussions are ongoing,” Kapler said. “I think you’re always trying to balance long-term development with what the club needs. Does the pitcher appear ready to help? One thing we’ve seen is the adjustment to the baseball is real. It’s a difficult thing just from going from double A to triple A with the different baseball...I think there’s a lot of things to consider when you talk about when the right time to advance Spencer Howard is.”