Garcia Up, Morgan Down, Buchholz Hurt, Now What?
It only took the Phillies 3 days to wipe away all of the positive feelings from a 17-3 drubbing of the Nationals. Michael already wrote about what happened to Clay Buchholz so it is not worth dwelling too much on his future until we know his MRI results (which came out while writing this). However, his ineffectiveness and injury put the Phillies in the position of running out their three worst relievers in a desperate attempt to keep the damage limited to one night. For his part in putting gasoline on the fire, Adam Morgan earned a trip to AAA sparking the first set of Phillies transactions since the end of Spring Training.
The immediate response by the Phillies was to bring back up Spring Training bullpen competition runner up, Luis Garcia. Because of a rain-out to open the year and pretty decent starting pitching, Garcia only appeared in one game for the IronPigs. On April 9 he came into the 7th inning of a 7 inning double header, and walked 1, while striking two out in a scoreless inning. This means he should be rested for immediate use in case Vince Velasquez goes 4 innings again. Garcia is obviously not a bullpen savior, he will slot in as just an arm, even though his raw stuff might hint that he could be something more.
It is not official yet, but all indications are that Clay Buchholz will be out for a period of time. Because of two off days in the next week, the Phillies won’t need to replace Buchholz until April 22. The current buzz is that Zach Eflin will be Buchholz’s replacement, now that he looks healthy. Eflin pitched 5 scoreless innings last night for the Lehigh Valley IronPigs, but he did not look entirely major league ready. He is still ironing out his fastball command he didn’t start working in his offspeed pitches regularly until the 4th inning. Given the April 22 date, he will get another start in AAA before the Phillies have to make a decision. If Eflin is not ready, the rest of the AAA rotation is on the 40 man roster, so if the Phillies only needed a spot start until Eflin is ready they could turn to Jake Thompson, Ben Lively, Nick Pivetta, Mark Appel, or Ricardo Pinto without causing much issue. Given Thompson’s struggles and the improvements needed from Appel, Pinto, and Pivetta, the only real alternative to Eflin is Ben Lively. However, Eflin’s success in the majors coupled with better raw stuff than Lively make him a clear choice if Buchholz is out for a significant chunk of time.
As for Buchholz’s roster spot in the interim, the Phillies have three choices. The first is to just recall Adam Morgan and go with an 8 man bullpen (the Phillies are able to recall Morgan immediately because of Buchholz going on the DL). They could say they had enough of Morgan and that they want a different lefty and either DFA Morgan or use a 40 man spot (if Buchholz goes to 60 day) on a lefty like Hoby Milner, Cesar Ramos, or Pat Venditte. The Phillies could also decide they want another hitter on the bench instead of a reliever and bring up a player like Hector Gomez who is not on the 40 man roster to give them another hitter without sacrificing prospect development time. They still would need to either DFA Morgan or get a spot from a long term Buchholz injury.
Not matter how things shape up, it feels like the Phillies lost their low stakes gamble ob Buchholz (Josh Tobias’s ceiling is as a utility player and he is a 24 year old in hi-A). Outside of that, the Phillies’ rotation is likely to improve with Eflin or someone else instead of a broken and bad Buchholz. Which is good news for a team that has been getting some good pitching performances from other members of their rotation