Phillies Are Having Second Half Pitching Problems

Young pitching was supposed to be a strength of the Phillies this season, but as we all know, pitching can be unpredictable. As of right now, the Phillies have a team ERA of 4.56 on the season, which is good for 20th in baseball. On a more granular basis, their starters are actually 17th in baseball, and their relievers are 23rd. The reasons for these declines are many and include injuries, trades, and just being bad. However, baseball does not accept excuses in place of starts, so the Phillies still have to figure out a pitching staff to get through the end of the season. So how do you do that when you don’t have any veterans and you aren’t very good?

The one pitcher in all of this that the Phillies don’t have to worry about is Aaron Nola. In the second half he has a 1.85 ERA, and in 10 starts since allowing 5 runs to Arizona on June 16, he has a 1.71 ERA over 68.1 innings.

The other pitcher who has rejoined that category is Jerad Eickhoff. He hasn’t been as dominant as Nola, but in his 7 starts since returning from the DL, he has a 3.18 ERA over 39.2 innings. He is no longer hemorrhaging home runs, and his strikeout rate is back up as well.

Then it all falls apart. Here are the players who have started games for the Phillies in the second half:

Add to that Mark Leiter Jr. (11 IP 4.09 ERA), who will be getting the start tonight, and you have a motley crew of not very good.

There is not really help on the way either. The AAA rotation features the demoted Thompson and Ben Lively, as well as Thomas Eshelman, Jose Taveras, and Brandon Leibrandt. In reality, the only reinforcements are Thompson and Lively, as the Phillies look to limit Eshelman (and probably Leibrandt), and Taveras has just 5 starts in AA and AAA combined.

The rotation problems have put more pressure on the bullpen, and up until Velasquez’s injury, the Phillies had been running an 8 man bullpen. But now they are back to a 7 man bullpen,with Leiter moving from long man to rotation. It has not helped that the bullpen is young and inconsistent.

There is no fix to the bullpen in the minors either. This means the only real out is to play the numbers. The first move is going to need to be bringing back the 8 man bullpen, so that Pete does not have to push players like Ricardo Pinto into second innings of work. They have two options for where that player comes from. They could promote Ben Lively or Jake Thompson and push one of them or Leiter to the bullpen as the long man. Alternatively, they could bring up a pure reliever, like Pedro Beato or Casey Fien, who are both on rehab assignments just to soak up innings.

This all leads to where this gets really interesting, which is September. The Phillies are unlikely to promote prospects to the majors on September 1, but they could send up Beato and Fien to extend the bullpen. Once the minor league season ends, they have strong candidates to help extend the relief corps and maybe start to limit their starters to fewer innings per start.

  • Elniery Garcia – Garcia is not major league ready and doesn’t have much upper minors experience under his belt, but he is left handed and is not playoff eligible in the minors due to his suspension. Speaking of the suspension, that coupled with an arm injury means he needs the innings too.
  • Mark Appel – Appel is currently rehabbing from an injury, and it sounds like he will be coming back as a reliever. He will need innings after his injury, so why not give him some run in the majors just to get him into the games?
  • Jake Thompson/Ben Lively – Right now both are just starter depth, but both might have some utility in a bullpen if they made full time conversion. For now, they should be able to mop up innings.
  • Yacksel Rios – Rios is the breakout right hander pair to Jesen Therrien. Rios needs a 40 man spot this offseason to not be a free agent. He has good arm strength (FB 94-97) and a solid enough slider to be a good reliever.
  • Drew Anderson – He probably will be at his max innings for the year, but the Phillies have already shown they are fine throwing him into bullpen situations.

No matter what they do, it is going to be a struggle for the Phillies pitching staff. The good news is that Nola and Eickhoff are back on track, and that almost all of the struggles are due to young players getting a major league chance, and not veterans putting up bad numbers..

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