Nola Injured and the Phillies Make a Trade
The Phillies 40 man roster will be a story all year, as they navigate the 11 players they added in front of the Rule 5 draft. With Clay Buchholz’s season ending injury and Elniery Garcia’s PED suspension, the roster opened up some. This was all just in time for injuries to hit the Phillies elsewhere.
The heart attack inducing injury was to Aaron Nola’s back. Right now, all indications are that Nola will only miss a start or two on this DL trip, but the news caused some level of panic anyway. The corresponding move is fairly obvious. Nick Pivetta has gotten off to a hot start and is both on the 40 man roster and on turn in the rotation. Pivetta probably needs more time in AAA, but he should be fine to make a 1 to 2 start cameo in the majors. The Phillies could choose to go with a bullpen game in those starts instead, but all signs point to Pivetta making his debut.
The injury no one is worrying about is to Howie Kendrick’s oblique. The reason for this is Aaron Altherr. Altherr has moved from the first outfielder off the bench to a near everyday role. He is still striking out at a high rate, but he is showing why everyone was excited heading into 2016. Altherr might have some struggles has he continues to get more playing time, but the payoff could be another everyday outfielder for the Phillies.
The pain from the Kendrick injury is really felt on the Phillies’ bench. Because of Kendrick’s positional flexibility, the Phillies were able to carry 3 OF/1Bs (Altherr, Nava, and Stassi), Andres Blanco, and Andrew Knapp. Kendrick’s ability to play 2B and 3B allowed Pete Mackanin to use Andres Blanco as a sub or pinch hitter, because if something happened to Hernandez, Galvis, or Franco, the Phillies could move Kendrick to the infield and reshuffle the rest. Since Kendrick went on the DL, the Phillies have been carrying 8 relievers and only 4 bench bats. This has led to Mark Leiter Jr. sitting on the bullpen bench not pitching (thanks to a great string of the starts by the Phillies’ rotation), and Andres Blanco nailed down to the bench because no one else on the roster can play the infield in an emergeny.
Enter Ty Kelly. Ty Kelly is not a major league player. He is a no power utility player who can play almost anywhere on the diamond. He works good at bats, but he is essentially a zero on the field. The Phillies acquired him via trade from the Blue Jays for cash, so their investment is minimal. Kelly should never see the field for the Phillies. He will be their 5th best pinch hit bat, and he is not really a defensive upgrade anywhere for the Phillies. What he is, is a trade for Blanco’s bat off the bench, which is now available to Mackanin for the first time in nearly a week. He also allows the Phillies to continue to push off promoting Jesmuel Valentin into a bench role.
Kelly will be activated when Nola is put on the DL, with Leiter likely returning to AAA the be replaced by Wednesday’s starter replacement for Nola. Given Leiter’s lack of activity, the Phillies won’t miss having an 8th reliever.
The other thing we saw in the past week was how the Phillies will manage their 40 man roster going forward. Leiter’s addition to the roster does give the Phillies 3 up and down relievers, and I suspect we will see him, Luis Garcia, and Adam Morgan making trips up and down from AAA to majors as they are needed. In the case that they are not available, the Phillies showed they are willing to pull up a minor league starter as an extra arm when needed. The Phillies entire AAA rotation is on the 40 man roster, meaning they should be able to pull up pitchers when they need them for short stints, like they did with Ben Lively when Pat Neshek went on the paternity list.
No team is resilient to injuries forever, but the Phillies have been able to weather their first set, and their depth has led to opportunities going to Aaron Altherr, Zach Eflin, and likely Nick Pivetta, as well as quick stints to the bullpen bench for Ben Lively and Mark Leiter Jr. It should only get more interesting from here.