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April 19, 2021

The Phillies have options to fix their fifth starter problem

The contrast was never more clear than this weekend, as the Phillies took two of three games from the Cardinals.

Fifth starter Matt Moore got the nod on Saturday, and he retired just eight of 17 batters faced, allowing six early runs (five earned) to put the Phillies in a gigantic hole that they wouldn't climb out of. 

Ace Aaron Nola started a day later, and went the distance in his first ever complete game shutout, striking out 10 and allowing just two hits in a 2-0 victory.

Of course, no one expects Moore to pitch like Nola, who was a Cy Young award runner up a few seasons ago. But the Phillies did hope their fifth starter in the rotation would give them a chance to win games. Moore hasn't, as his 9.82 ERA across three starts this year is the only mark by a Phils starter above 4.00. 

And while manager Joe Girardi did tell media members this weekend that he thinks it's "a bit early" for them to be considering replacements for Moore, the Phils need to be prepared for the 32-year-old who pitched in Japan last season to continue to be a bust.

There will be plenty of time for the Phillies to hunt for a starter on the trade market this summer, with Dylan Bundy, Sonny Gray, Johnny Cueto and others expected to be on the trade block come July. But the Phillies may be in need of a more short-term fix. Here are some arms they may look toward:

Already on the roster

Spencer Howard

Howard isn't technically on the 26-man roster right now. He briefly filled in during a double header and allowed a run in an inning of relief. But the 24-year-old is the top pitching prospect in the system and started six times in the majors in 2020 — though he did not pitch entirely well. The Phillies were hoping to give him a chance to start a few games in Triple-A (which did not play in 2020) before giving him a chance to earn and hold a rotation slot later this year. Could Moore's struggles thwart this plan?

Vince Velasquez

Velasquez was kept on the 26-man roster for this very reason. He's an average (or perhaps a bit below average) MLB starting pitcher and he's right there in the bullpen able to pitch in some starts if needed. The problem is, VV is really nothing special and has been a frustrating nightmare for fans for years now. That being said, he may be a better fit for helping to keep the Phillies in games than Moore is. He's given up four runs in four innings in relief this year — so he may not have done enough to earn a promotion.

Other in house options

Adonis Medina

Medina is one of the Phillies' former top pitching prospects who has likely been hurt by the lack of a 2020 minor league season. In his last full season in Reading in 2019, Medina went 7-7 with a 4.94 ERA in 21 starts. He also started once in 2020, allowing two runs in four frames. He is 23 years old and, like Howard, is nearing a now or never moment in his career.

Bradley Falter

The former fifth round pick got a spring training invite, but he saw only one inning of work in Clearwater. He's got a good body of work in the minors to boast, with a 3.16 career ERA in five seasons across eight different organizational levels, including a 3.84 ERA in 14 starts with Reading two years ago. 

Damon Jones

Jones was in spring training too, tossing three innings without allowing an earned run. A former late round pick, Jones dominated in Single and Double-A, but struggled in Lehigh Valley two seasons ago. Like Falter, he is a bit unproven but may be an option to be thrown into the fire if needed.

Current free agents

Before they look to make a splash via trade, there are some serviceable options ready to be signed right now. For what it's worth, estimates the Phillies have around $6 million left to spend before they eclipse the luxury tax threshold. All of the pitchers below should be affordable within that frame.

Cole Hamels

He's the former World Series MVP who threw a no-hitter for the Phillies before they traded him half a decade ago. The 37-year-old has not formally retired and wants to pitch in 2021 after he was hurt and unable to really help the Braves in 2020. In 2019, he was a very effective starter for the Cubs, posting a 3.81 ERA in 27 starts. The Phillies really should kick the tires on a potential Hamels reunion. It's doubtful he could be worse than Moore, and he would definitely bring some excitement with him back to South Philly.

Anibal Sanchez

Sanchez is a veteran hurler who was tied to the Phillies via free agency rumors this past winter. He struggled last season in 11 starts with the Nationals, but like Hamels, Sanchez was effective a year before the pandemic with an 11-8 record and 3.85 ERA. 

Jeff Samardzija

A lot of pitchers had awful seasons in 2020 for various reasons, with the 60-game shortened campaign proving to be pretty awkward and taxing during the COVID-19 crisis. Samardzija was one of those, who saw a solid 2019 give way to four lackluster starts for the Giants in 2020. If the Phillies call, Samardzija would welcome a chance to bounce back at age 36.

Rick Porcello

Porcello is 32, still relatively young and hails from North Jersey. He would no doubt welcome an opportunity to try to hold a starting gig one last time, looking to show his Cy Young-winning 2016 season wasn't a complete fluke. He's been a serviceable starter for three MLB teams and has won an impressive 150 games over 12 seasons.

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