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June 06, 2023

What they're saying: The Phillies' rotation is a mess

The rotation is a not sustainable, the Andrew Painter plan didn't work out, and the Phillies are way short on starting pitching depth as a result.

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Matt-Strahm-Phillies-Nationals-6.3.2023-MLB.jpg Brad Mills/USA TODAY Sports

Matt Strahm is a jack of all trades pitcher.

With either injuries or slumps anywhere you look up and down the roster, the Phillies couldn't get out of May soon enough, and entered June in nearly the same hole they were a year ago. 

They finally took a badly-needed series win down in Washington over the weekend, which might be a sign that the tide is turning if your glass is half full, but there are still a lot of problems to address. 

Jonathan Papelbon thinks they ultimately will and snap out of it in the long run, but what are others saying?

Let's have a look...

The fifth day's unsustainable

Corey Seidman | NBC Sports Philadelphia

To be blunt about it, the Phillies' rotation is a mess.

You never know what version of Aaron Nola and Zack Wheeler you're going to get from start to start at the top, Ranger Suárez needed time to settle into a rhythm after having no spring because of injury (though he seems to be getting there now), Taijuan Walker has been all over the place, and fifth starter...boy, has none of that gone according to plan

Andrew Painter got hurt in the spring and is slowly working his way back, while Bailey Falter lost the reliability he had toward the end of last season. 

That last part has left the Phillies way short on options every fifth day as who they have available immediately down in the minors is either hurt or underperforming, while Matt Strahm  – who's been arguably the most consistent arm – has an innings count that's climbing way too high for a reliever and they'd rather not exhaust him. 

They had a plan for the fifth spot in the spring. It didn't work out, and now the Phillies are way short on starting pitch depth just over two months into the season. 

This isn't sustainable. 

Wrote Corey Seidman on the matter:

In retrospect, the Phillies did not stockpile enough starting pitching depth over the offseason. They were relying on Falter's strong second half and a 20-year-old Painter being ready to start in the majors less than two years after being drafted out of high school.

A lot has gone wrong since and they're now in this spot, despite having a payroll of approximately $244 million, fourth-highest in the majors. There simply isn't another starting candidate on the 40-man roster who isn't listed above. 

"We'll get through (Saturday) and see where we go next time," [Manager Rob Thomson] said. [NBCSP]

But where do you go here?

This jam isn't like the last

Alex Coffey | The Philadelphia Inquirer

The Phillies entered June well below the .500 mark and with all kinds of frustration, just like last year. 

But last year they fired Joe Girardi and promoted Rob Thomson in the interim, and the shift in approach from one manager to the next was enough for the team to get it together.

A managerial change isn't coming to light a fire under the club this time, and the players will be the first to tell you that doing so wouldn't be the answer anyway.

It's on them to figure this one out. 

Bryce Harper's read on the current circumstances via Alex Coffey

Last season, Thomson was heralded by fans for his unflappability. This season, it has been a source of frustration. Some feel that Thomson is too loose, that he isn’t the most effective voice to lead his team out of a difficult start. But Harper and [Nick Castellanos] disagree.

“He kind of just lets us play,” Harper said. “He understands this game is hard. We play a full season for a reason. When he needs to speak, he does. And we listen. Just like anybody. I think when you have a guy who is very even-keeled, doesn’t speak much, doesn’t talk much, then when he does — it’s good information. It hits hard.

“I think as a team, when you don’t have your superstars playing the right way, or playing to the level or ability that they can, you look at our lineup and our superstars aren’t really doing what they should be doing at this point. So, that’s more on us than anything. It has nothing to do with our staff or anything like that. We just need to show up and play our game.

“I need to be better. Trea [Turner] needs to be better. Kyle [Schwarber] needs to be better. J.T. [Realmuto] — everybody. You can look at every single guy on this team and we can all get better in some aspect.” [The Inquirer]

The outfield needs an upgrade

Matt Gelb | The Athletic ($)

In his takeaways from the Phillies' season so far, Matt Gelb noted that Kyle Schwarber had been playing through an undisclosed knee issue, which might lend an explanation as to why he's struggled so immensely in 2023, especially when he's out in left field. 

According to Gelb, the Phillies wanted to mask the issue by keeping Schwarber as a designated hitter, but Bryce Harper's return so soon required them to axe that plan. So with Schwarber and Nick Castellanos as the main two corner outfielders – since it'll still be a while before Harper can throw in a game again – there's definite room for improvement defensively. 

Does that mean the Phillies could be looking for it on the trade market?

Wrote Gelb:

Schwarber, earlier in the season, played through an undisclosed knee ailment that no one from the team would publicly acknowledge. When asked numerous times to detail the issue, Schwarber declined. Privately, team officials acknowledged it hampered Schwarber — and it’s why the Phillies were attempting to hide him as the designated hitter before Bryce Harper returned. But Schwarber’s defensive issues have persisted.

The Phillies will not rush Harper’s move to first base because his reconstructed elbow is at greater risk with throws than swings. But it is clear the Phillies stand to significantly benefit if they can have Harper at first with Schwarber as the DH. If every contender is looking for pitching in July, but the Phillies can pivot to a right-handed-hitting corner outfielder, it could be a decent path for an in-season upgrade. [The Athletic, $]

Won the trade?

Tim Kelly | Phillies Nation

In the winter, the Phillies made a five-player trade with the Tigers for All-Star reliever Gregory Soto and infielder Kody Clemens, who figured to be bonus bench depth that could bounce around between Triple-A and the majors as needed. 

In exchange, the club had to part with fan favorites Matt Vierling, Nick Maton, and prospect Donny Sands, but as our own Evan Macy observed on Monday, neither of the three's performances this season should be leaving the Phils too bent out of shape over it

As for how Soto and Clemens have been working out, Tim Kelly weighed in with Detroit in town this week:

Soto is tied with Connor Brogdon for the team lead in appearances at 27. And while his 5.25 ERA would lead you to believe 2023 has been a struggle, Soto has been largely effective. No one is glossing over the fact that Soto has four appearances where he’s allowed three or more earned runs. But across the other 23 games he’s pitched in this season, Soto has allowed just three total hits, a trend he discussed with Phillies Nation last month.

Soto has nine holds, a save, a 3.20 FIP and a 0.4 WAR, per FanGraphs. Obviously, he needs to cut down on his blowups, but there’s worse things than being unhittable for nine out of 10 outings. Soto, 28, can’t become a free agent until after the 2025 season, so he figures to become a mainstay in the bullpen for the Phillies.

As for Clemens, the Phillies certainly didn’t expect to be in a position where Rhys Hoskins, Darick Hall and Alec Bohm are all on the injured list at the same time. But Clemens has played well enough that it’s not a guarantee that the rehabbing Hall is recalled the second he’s deemed to be ready to play in a Major League game again.

In 31 games for the Phillies, Clemens has slashed .253/.311/.434 with four home runs, 10 RBIs, a .745 OPS and a 0.4 WAR. At the time of the trade, Clemens was thought to be the weakest of the four players dealt. But he’s proven to be solid organizational depth, the type of piece you need to get through a 162-game season. [Phillies Nation]

So, hey, not everything around the Phillies has been on fire right now. 

Silver linings.

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