Following a marathon stretch of 17 straight days of baseball, the NL East leading Phillies got a much needed day of rest on April 29th. Over that stretch, the team went a pedestrian 9-8 and suffered a plethora of injuries. Jean Segura spent some time on the injured list before ultimately returning while Kingery, Odubel, David Robertson and Victor Arano all remain on the shelf. Roman Quinn was also reactivated from the IL for a short time before returning almost immediately following a groin injury.
The team deployed several options in the pen during this stretch, with Austin Davis and Drew Anderson pitching a few innings along with Enyel De Los Santos, who remains with the big league club for now. The injuries of Kingery and Segura also lead to the contract purchases of Sean Rodriguez and Bryn Mawr native Sean Gosselin to fill holes at shortstop.
While the club finished 9-8, the stretch ultimately felt like the first rough patch of the campaign. The Phillies lost two of three in New York and three of four in Colorado while winning two of three with the Mets and home as well as two series wins against the Marlins. The final four game stretch against the Marlins was stressful, however, and the fact that they hit Phillies’ pitching so well raised some red flags. Thankfully, the final four games of the marathon featured great outings from Jerad Eickhoff and Zach Eflin – the latter of which pitched a complete game, the third of his career.
Struggles/injuries aside, the Phillies will officially have one month of baseball in the books after tonight and remain atop the division. The team has an impressive 13-8 record against the NL East and currently have a two game lead on first place. Thankfully for the Phillies, the rest of the division struggled in that same stretch and also cannibalized each-other. Overall, there isn’t much to complain about standings wise.
On the statistics front, 28 games allows a much larger sample size for analysis. The rotation have mostly logged 4-5 starts while starting hitters have over 100 plate appearances. There is also time to get a first in depth analysis of Bryce Harper’s numbers with the Phillies as well as the other new additions.
So without rambling on any further, let’s get into this monthly roundup.
Aaron Nola’s Dreadful April
The most surprising/troubling April development has been the struggles of Aaron Nola. Through 31 and 2/3 innings across six starts, Nola has an ERA of 5.68 and has allowed seven home runs. Opposing hitters have found Nola easy to hit, clobbering him to the tune of a .298 batting average against (BAA) – the fourth worst mark in all of baseball among qualified starters.
As unexpected as it was, Nola’s terrible April has only elevated preseason rotation concerns. The team has no ace/stopper pitcher so long as he struggles. That said, it is far from time to panic on Nola. The LSU product is one of several front-line MLB starters who had terrible Aprils, including Noah Syndergaard, Corey Kluber (who just got hurt) and Chris Sale. Unlike older pitchers, Nola isn’t suffering from any velocity dips, meaning that his issues appear to be mechanical and/or mental.
Hopefully, Nola can use his last April outing against Miami as a building block for future success. Though it was far from an excellent outing, Nola went 6 & 2/3 allowing just one earned run and one walk. He did, however, allow seven hits to a lowly Marlins team, but ultimately logged a successful outing.
Thankfully, Nola built on his success during his first May start. Nola followed it up with a successful start against Detroit last night in which he went 5 & 2/3 while allowing one earned run to go along with six punch-outs. However, he did allow ten base-runners in the way of 7 hits and 3 walks to a Tigers team that entered the series as the worst offense in the American League. It’s good to see Nola have two solid outings, but neither one of these outings are quite what I was hoping to see.
7 hits and three walks isn’t going to get it done against Washington. It’s tough to hate on a building block, but the Phillies will be needing a-lot more out of Aaron Nola going forward.
Analyzing The Rotation As A Whole
As a whole, the starting rotation performed fairly average all together. Like Aaron Nola, the staff as a whole had an uncomfortably high batting average against of .274 in April – the second highest in the league. Of course, it should be pointed out that Nick Pivetta’s struggles may have inflated this number. Pivetta had allowed the most hits in the league at the time of his demotion.
After Pivetta was sent to AAA, Jerad Eickhoff stepped into the rotation and finished April with two solid outings. Included in those was 7 inning, 6 strikeout outing in which Eickhoff allowed no runs against the Marlins. The team will be hoping that Eickhoff can get back to 2016 form and offer some consistency to a rotation that has been lacking in it.
Zach Eflin had to excellent starts to begin the season before getting shelled by the Marlins in his third. He then pitched quite well for Coors field standards, allowing two earned runs through six before a four inning outing against the Mets that ended in a loss. Eflin, however, ended April on a high note with his third career complete game. The Phillies will take this level of production every time.
Jake Arrieta also had a good April, though he ended his on a different note. Before allowing five runs in his final April outing, the former Cy Young award winner hadn’t allowed more than three earned runs in any of his previous five starts. Arrieta also pitched into the seventh inning a total of three times and has yet to go fewer than five innings. Arrieta’s ability to pitch deep into games is his main contribution to a Phillies team with a struggling bullpen.
Finally, Vince Velasquez had a Vince Velasquez April. He pitched well overall, but only managed to get to the sixth inning in one of his five starts. Vince found himself out of the game before the fourth inning on Tuesday after using 99 pitches in 3.2 innings.
Tuesday’s outing showcased everything that has been said about Vince Velasquez to this point in his career. He has the ability to miss bats but far too often finds himself approaching 100 pitches before the fifth inning.
It just seems inevitable that Velasquez will move to the bullpen at some point. With Pivetta in AAA, Enyel De Los Santos in the pen and Ranger Suarez at AAA, the team has other options to try out. Velasquez just can’t get deep into ballgames and it makes no sense to continue trying something when we know what the end result will be. With the bullpen struggling the way it is, Velasquez could use a look.
Which brings us to the next point.
The Bullpen Has Several Question Marks
The area where the Phillies have struggled the most thus far has undoubtedly been the bullpen. Seranthony Dominguez and Juan Nicasio begin May with ERA’s of 5.11 and 5.02 respectively. Nicasio’s numbers aren’t quite as bad when you factor in the amount of garbage time runs he’s given up, but he hasn’t been very reliable regardless. As for Seranthony Dominguez, he continues to struggle in his search to regain his form from when he was first called up. Dominguez has struggled since late last season and has continued to struggle – mostly as a middle reliever – in 2019.
Another reliever who has been downright horrendous is José Álvarez. Through ten innings, Alvarez has allowed 8 earned runs and 17 hits. Alvarez might have a longer leash since the club has fewer options in the way of left-handed relievers, but he won’t be here by May 15th if he keeps pitching like this.
On top of overall ineffectiveness, Gabe Kapler has still yet to establish any type of consistency at the back end of the bullpen. It doesn’t help that David Robertson remains on the shelf, but this is a recurring theme from last season.
Hector Neris has the most saves on the team with four, but ultimately has found himself in several stressful situations. Hector’s reliance on his filthy split-finger pitch works well against teams that aren’t familiar with it, however, NL East rivals seem to have an easier time against Hector.
All together, Gabe Kapler has deployed Neris, David Robertson, Edubray Ramos, Alvarez, Pat Neshek and Seranthony Dominguez in save situations and it isn’t even May. This must get under controller within the next few weeks. The Phillies can’t address the problems with their bullpen if players don’t have defined roles.
Thankfully, that seems to be getting under control as Neris is increasingly pitching the ninth while Neshek pitches the eighth. Add in the sudden brilliance of Adam Morgan – who hasn’t allowed a run yet in 2019 – and the Phillies have a solid late inning trio that includes a lefty.
As for the middle relievers, it’s hard to imagine how much longer Nicasio will stick around much longer if he continues to pitch like this. Victor Arano will soon be returning from the IL, Yacksell Rios remains in AAA and there is talk of Pivetta converting to a reliever. Enyel De Los Santos is also currently with the big league club though he has thrown only one inning.
Whether it’s in the bullpen or rotation, it seems increasingly likely that De Los Santos will be staying up in the near future. If he did move to the rotation it could open up the possibility of Velasquez moving to the pen.
So in short, the Phillies have options in the way of right-handed relievers and Juan Nicasio isn’t making the cut. If the Phillies do make a more permanent move, look for it to involve Nicasio if he doesn’t turn it around.
Craig Kimbrel talk is also sure to continue so long as the bullpen struggles. Kimbrel is said to be unwavering in his demands but the longer he waits, the more his value decreases. Ultimately, Kimbrel is probably priced too high for Matt Klentak but the possibility always remains.
Bryce Harper/ Overal Offensive April Output
Despite flashes of how great this team could be, the Phillies ultimately scuffled in the latter part of April and the numbers showed it. All together, the team was 23rd in home-runs with 30, 18th in OPS with .739, 15th in OBP .330 and hit .243 as a team in April.
Essentially, the Phillies were a very middle of the pack offense this April. Injuries didn’t help but the Phillies ultimately missed the bat of Bryce Harper, especially in the latter part of the month. After a hot start, Harper has cooled down significantly and is now hitting just .231 on the season. Other than a five hit game in Colorado, Harper has been largely absent over the last couple weeks. This all culminated in him getting boo’d last night following a misjudged pop-up.
Thankfully for Harper, he finds himself in this slump after a hot start and warm reception from the fan base in the beginning. Harper is the type of player who can respond well to the expectations of playing in Philadelphia and I believe that he will. It should also be noted that Harper leads the league in walks and is getting on base at a clip of .376. Teams will continue to pitch around him but it is only a matter of time before the Phillies get back to what they were doing during the first couple weeks of the season.
As for other contributions, Rhys Hoskins hit 7 home runs, drove in 19 and hit .276/.388/.561 during the month of April. Maikel Franco drove in 15 runs from the eight-hole and is tied for the team lead with 25 as of today.
Chatter also continues to surround the play of Cesar Hernandez. Though he had a decent month at the plate, Hernandez made more than one costly error on the base-paths and on the field. He currently grades as one of the worst defensive second basemen in the National League. If Hernandez continues to struggle, talk of replacing him with a healthy Scott Kingery will continue to persist.