When last we saw the Phillies, they were heading into the home stretch of spring training.
It was March 12. Opening day was just two weeks away.
But instead of beginning the countdown to opening day, the Phillies, and every other team in baseball, were stopped in their tracks in that moment as the sporting world was shut down by a beast called coronavirus.
Now, 3½ months later, the baseball world is ready to start the countdown to opening day again. Phillies players are already trickling into town as the team gets ready to restart its preparation for what will be a shortened, 60-game season beginning July 23 or 24.
The Phillies will resume “spring training” on Wednesday at Citizens Bank Park.
When camps shut down, the Phillies had the best record in the majors at 14-5-1 – not that it really mattered. First of all, it was only practice. And second, more important things were going on in the world. Still are. Nonetheless, let’s look back a little at where the Phillies were as a team back when everything shut down on March 12.
The Fifth Starter
Aaron Nola was in line for the opening day start and Zack Wheeler, Jake Arrieta and Zach Eflin were also set in the rotation.
Vince Velasquez and Nick Pivetta were vying for the fifth spot in the rotation and the calendar dictated that a decision was getting close.
Ah, but a third candidate, lefty Ranger Suarez, was gaining some traction.
Will Suarez still be in the mix when camp reopens? Or will he return to the bullpen, where he was a late-season standout last year?
Starters will need a few starts before they’re ready to pitch deep into games so bullpens will be more important than ever. Maybe Suarez works out of the ‘pen. Or maybe the Phils use him in the rotation and try to add some needed power to the ‘pen by using Pivetta and Velasquez as relievers. At least one of them will have to go to the ‘pen anyway. Suarez, Velasquez and Pivetta all have the ability to go multiple innings and there will be great value in that over the first month of the season.
What about Spencer Howard?
The shortened season will take care of his workload limit and he should figure prominently in this sprint of a season.
However, the question is: Will he impact the first week of the season? It would not be surprising to see management hold him back a little so it can preserve an extra season of control before free agency. With a shortened season, that only means about seven days.
If starters only go three or four innings out of the gate, it could make sense to piggyback Howard with one of the top four starters for, say, weeks 2, 3 and 4 of the season. Then, if he’s holding his own, he could be mixed into the rotation or continue to help in the bullpen.
Either way, Spencer Howard needs to impact this team – after the first week.
Ditto for Alec Bohm, whose bat could come in handy as a designated hitter or possible first baseman if Rhys Hoskins scuffles.
Hoskins had bonded with new hitting coach Joe Dillon and was starting to feel good after making some adjustments in his swing when camp shut down. He remains an important guy on this team and the Phillies need his right-handed pop in the middle of the lineup.
Who plays second and third?
That was one of the big questions when camp opened, but it was well on its way to being sorted out when camp shut down in March.
Not only was Jean Segura open-minded about giving third base a try, he looked good at the position.
So, heading into Camp 2, it looks like Segura at third and Scott Kingery at second. Newcomer Didi Gregorius is set at shortstop.
Cutch is set
The Phillies really missed Andrew McCutchen after he went down with a knee injury on June 3 last season. He was not going to be ready for the March 26 opener but the shutdown gave him the time he needed to fully recover so he will be ready.
Players responded very well to new skipper Joe Girardi in Clearwater. He comes with lots of credibility, both on a personal and professional level. Here’s a look at what makes Girardi tick.
The leadership of new pitching coach Bryan Price was also notable in Clearwater. In fact, it seemed as if pitchers went out of their way almost daily to rave about him and his potential impact. They were particularly enthused about his stressing of the down-and-away fastball after the team had gotten away from that the previous year.
But don’t take our word for it.
J.T. Realmuto framed it very well, comparing the old with the new.
Price has a very interesting background and came to the Phillies highly recommended by Pat Gillick. Larry Bowa is also a big fan. Learn more about Price here.