The Phillies have suffered a fair bit of bad luck in the lead up to opening day. Rhys Hoskins is out for the year with a torn ACL, Ranger Suárez is nursing a sore elbow, blue chip prospect Andrew Painter is shut down with a sprained UCL, and depth pieces Cristopher Sánchez and Nick Nelson are both suffering from nagging injuries. With all of these maladies coming at the worst possible time, the Phillies are trying anything and everything to plug the holes.
Darick Hall is set to begin the year as the Phils’ starting first baseman, with Alec Bohm, Josh Harrison, Edmundo Sosa and J.T. Realmuto potentially in the mix as well. There are some decent options on the free agent market and trade front to choose from if Hall doesn’t live up to expectations.
While the Hoskins injury is a devastating blow to the Phillies’ potent offense, the starting pitching woes they’ve suffered of late are equally worrisome. Coming into spring training, many fans expected 19-year-old phenom Andrew Painter to make a serious run at the Phillies’ fifth starter job. That was put on hold earlier this month when an MRI revealed he had a sprained UCL in his right arm, which can be a precursor to the dreaded Tommy John surgery. Hopefully Painter will be able to avoid the surgeon’s knife, but he likely won’t be back until mid-season at least.
With Painter down, the Phillies rotation still looked strong with Aaron Nola and Zack Wheeler at the top, followed by Suárez, free agent addition Taijuan Walker, and last year’s mid-season hero Bailey Falter. However, Suárez was pulled from a World Baseball Classic exhibition game with left forearm tenderness, and the team has now shut him down due to elbow inflammation. On the bright side, an MRI revealed no structural damage, but he’s still on track to start the season on the Injured List. Added to the pile of pitching injuries are swingmen Cristopher Sánchez and Nick Nelson. The fireballing Sánchez is battling left triceps tightness, while the innings-eating Nelson will start the year on the Injured List with a left hamstring strain.
With so much of the Phillies’ starting pitching depth on the shelf, they’ve started taking drastic steps to address the problem. Offseason signee Matt Strahm was brought in to be a multi-inning fireman out of the bullpen, but has begun starting spring training games in an effort to have him in the rotation to begin the year. Strahm has started 25 games in his big league career, but he’s worked almost exclusively in relief over the past three seasons. It’s an ambitious plan, which would add another solid lefty to the rotation, but given the late hour it began, Strahm will likely only be able to throw around 70 pitches per start to begin the year.
There aren’t many more options to choose from, with the next man up looking like lefty Michael Plassmeyer. The 26-year-old showed well in his first two major league games last season, and posted a serviceable 4.21 ERA across 128.1 innings in Triple-A last year. He’s not a bad guy to have around for an emergency, but giving him a starting role to begin the season isn’t ideal.
Looking outside the organization, the Phillies could explore the trade block if Suárez misses an extended period of time, but given the middling status of their farm system and the other holes that will need patching come July, that’s probably not their first choice. There isn’t much left in free agency either, with the top options being washed up veterans Mike Minor, Michael Pineda, Chris Archer and Dylan Bundy. In short, there really aren’t any halfway decent starters out there to be had.
Best case scenario, Suárez only misses a week or two and is back to his old self, and the rest of the depth pieces straighten things out in short order. Worst case scenario, Suárez misses a few months and the Phillies cobble together their fifth rotation spot with a not-stretched-out Matt Strahm, Michael Plassmeyer and any other spare parts they can find. Let’s all get down on our knees and pray that we get the former and not the latter.