April 26, 2016
WASHINGTON – For the next month, and perhaps longer, the Phillies rotation could be populated by Jeremy Hellickson and four pitchers who weren’t even in the big leagues this time last year.
A day after landing on the disabled list with a strained left hamstring, Charlie Morton underwent an MRI on Monday in Philadelphia. The update on Tuesday was not encouraging for the 32-year-old right-hander.
“Apparently his MRI wasn’t as good as we were hoping,” manager Pete Mackanin said before the Phillies took batting practice on Tuesday at Nationals Park in Washington.
Mackanin said he would likely know more in “a few days.” He will need to have a starting pitcher in Morton’s place by now and all signs point to left-hander Adam Morgan.
The 26-year-old Morgan was scratched from his start on Tuesday night at Scranton. And he’s not scheduled to pitch for Triple-A Lehigh Valley later this week, so, well, do the math.
“I haven't heard and I’m not going to announce anything officially,” Mackanin said.
Morgan lost out to right-hander Vince Velasquez at the end of spring training in the battle for the fifth starter job. Morgan had a 1.50 ERA in four games (two earned runs in 12 innings) with two walks and two strikeouts in Grapefruit League play.
Morgan had a 4.48 ERA in 15 starts with the Phillies last season; he allowed two runs or fewer in eight of those 15 starts. If Morgan does indeed get the call to jump into Morton’s place in the rotation, on Friday at Citizens Bank Park against the Cleveland Indians, he would join Velasquez, Aaron Nola and Jerad Eickhoff as members of the Phillies rotation who were all rookies in 2015.
As for Morton, acquired in December from the Pittsburgh Pirates and in the final year of a 3-year, $21 million contract, it’s difficult to imagine seeing him in a game before June.
Last year, veteran right-hander Jerome Williams was placed on the DL with a left hamstring injury on June 17 and didn’t return until July 24. And just yesterday, former Phillies pitching prospect Carlos Carrasco was placed on the DL by the Cleveland Indians and is expected to be sidelined 4-6 weeks.
Last Wednesday, Mackanin batted the pitcher eighth in his starting lineup for the first time in his managerial career but also said he didn’t think it would be a regular occurrence. Six days later, the Phillies have completed a full rotation turn with each starter being slotted eighth in his lineup.
“I’ve got a few players that aren’t swinging the bats real well so it makes sense to do that, to have a position player in front of the leadoff man,” Mackanin said. “So it just seems to make sense right now. Once those guys start swinging the bat better I might not do it. But right now it just makes more sense to me.”
Phillies, Nationals. Velasquez, Scherzer. pic.twitter.com/Shm0t0Tuvf— Ryan Lawrence (@ryanlawrence21) April 26, 2016
The Phillies have two players hitting under .200 in tonight’s starting lineup (Ryan Howard, .183; Peter Bourjos, .196). They also have five players who currently have an OPS under .655 and among the bottom 43 in the NL among the 159 hitters with at least 30 plate appearances: Cesar Hernandez (.652), Howard (.633), Bourjos (.545), Darin Ruf (.490), and Cedric Hunter (.315).
Hunter, the team's Opening Day left fielder, was optioned to Triple-A Lehigh Valley last week outrighted off the 40-man roster on Monday.
Bryce Harper homered in all three games of the Phillies-Nationals series two weekends ago in Philadelphia. On Sunday night, he was out of Washington’s lineup for the first time all season but came off the bench to hit a pinch-hit, game-tying home run – his major league-leading ninth of the season.
So what’s a manager to do to avoid letting Harper beat you?
“I have an approach, or at least a theory of how I think we should pitch him,” Mackanin said. “I talked to (pitching coach) Bob McClure about that. So we’ll see how that works out.”
And that plan, Pete?
“We’re going to throw him all fastballs down the middle and tell him what’s coming, see if that works,” Mackanin joked.
Two weekends ago in Philly, Mackanin said he decided to pitch to Harper because the guy hitting behind him, Daniel Murphy, was just as hot at the plate. Murphy entered Tuesday with a 1.100 OPS this season, third in the NL behind Harper (1.260) and Chicago’s Dexter Fowler (1.198).
But good news for Mackanin: Murphy isn’t hitting directly behind Harper on Tuesday. Washington manager Dusty Baker has split his lefties with Ryan Zimmerman.