Despite an overall great start to the season, the Phillies head in to their rest day immediately following their first series loss of 2019. Aaron Nola blew a 6-1 lead in Tuesday night’s game that ultimately lead to an extra-inning loss. Gabe Kapler’s use of the bullpen received criticism from some fans while others thought that there was a fundamental lack of talent. As for yesterday’s game, it was a blowout early and ultimately ended up as a 15-1 rout that saw Aaron Altherr pitch (and strike out two).
The earlier part of the week was much better, however. The team managed to pull out a hard-fought series win against Minnesota before grabbing game one of the Nats series. Overall, the team sits at 7-4 which puts them in a three-way tie for first with the Braves and Mets. The Nats sit just one game back at 6-5.
It’s still far too early for standings talk, but it is worth noting that the team is 5-3 in inter-divisional play. This is something they didn’t do last year despite early success overall and it came back to bite them. Sure, it sucks to lose a close one to the Nats, but 5-3 isn’t bad and there will be more opportunities. Dropping too many games to the Braves early last season really put a damper on their slight playoff hopes even before they collapsed.
As for stats, we now have a bit larger of a sample size to draw from. It is two weeks since Opening Day which means that regulars have around 45 plate appearances while most starting pitchers have made at least two starts. Still too early but a much larger sample size to look at as opposed to last week.
Here are some takeaways/stats from this week as well as what lays ahead.
Nick Pivetta Is Getting Shelled
2019 has not been kind to Nick Pivetta, to put it mildly. Picked by many – including myself – as a breakout candidate, Pivetta has been absolutely horrific to start the year. In three starts, Pivetta has conceded 14 earned runs over 13.1 innings and has allowed a whopping 24 hits – the second highest mark in all of baseball. Brutal.
What made Pivetta a prime breakout candidate was his ability to miss bats and get strikeouts. He struck out over 10 per nine last season and seemed like a classic case of a guy who could be really good if he worked on his command. Unfortunately, the early returns have not looked good and it appears as though his command has moved in the opposite direction.
Still, it’s only three starts, but 24 hits over 13.1 innings is really bad. I still have faith in Pivetta but if he keeps struggling this badly he won’t have much longer of a leash. The team has more than one option in AAA with Jerad Eickhoff, Ranger Suarez and Enyel De Los Santos. These three have long been talked about in regards to replacing Velasquez but now Pivetta is finding himself in the danger zone. As for Velasquez, he had a typical Velasquez outing in which he allowed just two runs but didn’t make it to the sixth inning.
Pivetta’s next start will likely come against the Mets so it’s not like the pressure is going anywhere.
Zach Eflin Looks Excellent
On the flip-side, Zach Eflin looks outstanding to start 2019. He followed up a short but excellent five inning, 9 strikeout first start with another stellar outing on Sunday. All told, Eflin allowed allowed just one run over seven innings and picked up the victory. On the season, Eflin is 2-0 through 12 innings pitched with 14 K’s and just one walk allowed. This gives him an ERA of 0.75 and a WHIP of 0.833.
It’s only two starts, but Eflin’s demeanor seems improved and his pitches are moving. He’s looking like the pitcher he was last June and then some.
Long touted as a contact/ground ball pitcher, Eflin has perhaps surprisingly had more than a couple 9 strikeout performances in his career. Again, it’s early, but so far Eflin has been delivering exactly what many of us thought Pivetta would.
Nola Is Uncharacteristically Allowing Walks And Home Runs
It hasn’t been anywhere near as bad as Pivetta’s but Aaron Nola is another guy off to a less than ideal start. After a Cy Young caliber 2018, Nola has started off 2019 with one good start and two less than stellar ones. His debut against the Braves was solid despite five walks but Nola has since run into trouble with the long ball.
In his last 9.1 innings of work, Nola has allowed five home runs. Two of them came in Tuesday’s game in which Kapler opted to leave Nola in to pitch the seventh rather than pinch hit. Personally, I was fine with that decision but others have voiced their displeasure. To me, the bottom-line is that Nola was reliable in that situation last year and had looked good that night so far. Ultimately, a five run lead with your ace on the mound should be a win, but it wasn’t.
On the plus side, his work rate is right where it was last year and he’s looked fine other than leaving a few pitches up that he shouldn’t have. He also isn’t the only ace caliber pitcher off to a rough start as offense has been flowing so far in 2019. Hopefully Nola is just working out some kinks.
Hoskins Hit Two Go-Ahead Home Runs, Four Overall
This past week was a good one for Rhys Hoskins. Rhys went 6 for 21 with four home-runs and 9 RBI’s. He also walked four times. He was especially hot in the Twins series – racking up six of those RBI’s in that series alone. Hoskins also found himself as the hero of Sunday’s game after he hit a go-ahead home-run in the sixth off of Jose Berrios.
It was a similar story the next day against Washington, when Rhys hit a solo shot in the sixth that broke a 2-2 tie. The Phillies went on to win that game, thanks mostly to yet another dinger from Hoskins in the eighth that gave Neshek the insurance he needed.
All told, Hoskins homered in three straight games from Saturday through Monday. So far in his career, Rhys’ power has come in bunches and this week was no different.
The Bullpen Situation Is Still Being Worked Out
One of the only areas that has received quite a bit of criticism this year has been the bullpen. The bullpen – particularly the late innings – has been brutal for the Phillies in recent years and so far the struggles have persisted. Gabe Kapler has sent Hector Neris, Pat Neshek, Edubray Ramos and David Robertson out to close so far and it is only week two. Robertson and Ramos – who has just been sent to AAA – have each blown a save while Neshek struggled through one. Neris has a save under his belt but he too has also looked shaky in the late innings.
As a result, there has been consistent clambering about signing Craig Kimbrel. One of the all time great closers, Kimbrel remains unsigned and still has a high asking price. It also seems as though Klentak and company want to remain under the luxury tax so it is hard to see Kimbrel working out. That said, the talk will continue so long as the bullpen remains uncertain. David Robertson has the most experience closing but it is well known that Kapler prefers a closer committee of sorts.
It should also be noted that Adam Morgan is off to an excellent start. Through five innings, Morgan has allowed just two hits and has yet to give up a run. Five innings (over six appearances) isn’t much to go off of but a left handed reliever has long been regarded as this team’s greatest need. If Morgan can keep this up, he may very well be the answer. Well not the answer, but an answer to this question for sure.
Minor League/Rehab Notes
Moniak Off To A Good Start
2016 first overall pick Mickey Moniak is off to a good start in Reading. Through 27 plate appearances, Moniak is slashing .292/.370/.667 with two bombs and eight RBI’s. Moniak turns just 21 in May so it could still be another season before we see him in the majors. However, a hot streak in Reading could certainly help his cause.
Roman Quinn’s Rehab Is Going Well
After making three starts with Clearwater, Roman Quinn currently finds himself rehabbing with the Ironpigs. Quinn went 2 for 3 with a walk and a steal in his first appearance there and will likely be ready soon. The speedy and versatile Quinn has always struggled with injuries but is a solid asset when healthy.
For the time being, the team might be taking their time with Aaron Altherr. Altherr is out of options so when the team decides to call up Quinn it will likely be the end of Altherr as a Philly. Barring a sudden outburst from Altherr, he will likely be gone soon in favor of Quinn.
Eickhoff, Suarez and De Los Santos Had Solid AAA Starts
Three names that we mentioned earlier are Eickhoff, Suarez and De Los Santos. Eickhoff was of course a fixture in the Phillies’ rotation until injuries derailed him last season. Suarez – a lefty – made four starts for the Phillies in 2018 while De Los Santos made two. All three are at the top of the list in terms of rotation depth and all three looked good in their 2019 AAA debuts.
Eickhoff went five innings and allowed two earned runs to go along with four strikeouts. As for Suarez, he went five innings in which he allowed no runs and struck out six against two walks and four hits.
De Los Santos had the best outing of the three, however. He allowed just four hits over five innings while walking none and striking out ten. At just 23, the highlight of the Freddy Galvis trade is looking like a promising asset. This outing comes on the heels of an excellent season at AAA that earned him a couple big league starts and being named the starter of the 2018 AAA All Star Game.
What Lays Ahead
Next up for the Phillies is a three game series with the Marlins starting tomorrow in Miami. Jake Arrieta will get the start with Eflin and Velasquez set to round out the series. After that, Aaron Nola will get the start in game one of the Mets series at CBP on Jackie Robinson Day.The team will then head out west for four games at the hitter’s paradise that is Coors Field.
I think I speak for us all when I say that I’m excited to see what this team can do out there.
Catch the Phillies again tomorrow at 7:05 Eastern Time on NBCSN Philly.