Given how progressive Gabe Kapler has been in his first year as a major-league manager, it's a wonder the Phillies have not yet joined the ranks of teams that are experimenting with using a relief pitcher to begin a game before bringing in a starter in the second or third inning.
The Phillies began considering the "opener" strategy at least two months ago but have elected to stick with traditional starting pitchers. And although there are no plans to deviate within the next two weeks, even though their four young starters have eclipsed their single-season, career-high innings workload, Kapler wouldn't rule it out.
Facing "a lineup that looks pretty much the same every day and one that features kind of the same four or five hitters in the top five spots, sure, I think there's some really good tactical advantages that you can get from bringing a guy in specifically to match up with those guys," Kapler said before Saturday's win over the Marlins. "However, there is a balance between what is tactically optimal and what is optimal for the entirety of the clubhouse."
In other words, before the Phillies ever decide to use an "opener," Kapler would need to make sure that the scheduled starting pitcher was comfortable entering a game after the first inning. It hasn't reached that point, general manager Matt Klentak said recently, because the Phillies have generally been pleased with the performances of young starters Zach Eflin, Vince Velasquez, and Nick Pivetta.
But with expanded September rosters, the Phillies are carrying 20 pitchers, including triple-A starters Enyel De Los Santos, Ranger Suarez, and Drew Anderson. Jerad Eickhoff, who was on the disabled list for most of the season, is healthy again and threw a three-inning simulated game Saturday to continue building his arm strength in case he's needed to make a start.
With more pitchers available, the Phillies have the personnel to do something unorthodox, such as an "opener" or piggy-backing one starter after another. They just haven't gotten there yet.
"The one guiding data point that we're going to use is how our pitchers are performing and how they're feeling," Kapler said. "So, we're probably going to say, 'Does Vince's stuff look crisp, does it look sharp? Is he executing? Is he getting results?' If all those things are intact, we're not going to put artificial limitations on him. And I think that's true for Pivetta, it's true for Ef, it's true for [Aaron] Nola, obviously for Jake [Arrieta]."
Franco remains out
Third baseman Maikel Franco was out of the lineup for a third consecutive game after jamming his right shoulder on a scary spill over the railing near the visiting dugout in the eighth inning Tuesday night.
Kapler said Franco is "still a little bit banged up" but improving each day. When Franco is ready to play, the Phillies likely will ease him back by having him pinch-hit in a game before putting him back in the lineup at third base.
In Franco's absence, first baseman Carlos Santana made his second consecutive start and sixth start overall at third base. By keeping Santana at third, the Phillies were able to give leftfielder Rhys Hoskins another start at first.
Hoskins has 49 home runs through 188 career games. Only six players in major-league history reached the 50-homer mark within 190 career games: Rudy York (153 games), Gary Sanchez (161), Mark McGwire (161), Ryan Braun (171), Aaron Judge (174), and Ryan Howard (182). … The Phillies lead the majors with 119 games started by pitchers who are 26 or younger. … Pivetta (7-12, 4.64 ERA) will start Sunday's finale against the Marlins. Arrieta (10-9, 3.66) is in line to start the series opener against the New York Mets on Monday night.