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May 08, 2023

The Phillies need to fix their fifth starter problem

The back end of the Phillies' rotation is struggling. What are their internal options to turn things around?

A Ranger Suarez return to the Phillies rotation is imminent and the timing couldn't be better.

The aces have been unreliable — though both Zack Wheeler and Aaron Nola have generally been getting better as the season has progressed. Taijuan Walker finally put together a signature start for the Phillies, allowing one run against the Red Sox on Sunday to avoid a second straight sweep. But Bailey Falter has been dreadful, going 0-6 with a 5.75 ERA. And he's pitched seven of the Phillies 35 games.

As a whole, the Phils rotation is a bottom ten unit in baseball with a 4.91 ERA so far and 10-15 record (.400 winning percentage). They simply can't keep trotting out a winless pitcher with an ERA near six every fifth day. Falter may get one more chance this week in Colorado as a starter but the writing in on the wall and the room for error is getting smaller and smaller as the Phillies fail to sustain above .500 play.

The trade deadline isn't until the dog days of summer, and the Phillies are unlikely to make any kind of blockbuster improvement to their rotation before July. What are their best internal options until that time?

Move Matt Strahm back to starter

For whatever reason, Rob Thomson and the Phillies decided it would be Strahm and not Falter who'll be replaced by Suarez. Strahm has been extremely effective as a spot starter so far this year. He had three scoreless outings and has an ERA of 3.51. Meanwhile hitters are mashing Falter — to the tune of a .378/.439/.568 slash line.

Strahm will obviously be valuable as a long man in the pen but perhaps — since he is already stretched out and everything — he is worth staying on as a fifth starter until the deadline (or until a prospect breaks through)?

Roll with Nick Nelson

A long man for the team last year, Nelson was just activated and will be making some rehab appearances in the minors before becoming eligible to pitch in the majors in mid May. He does have four career starts, and was mentioned as a potential option by The Athletic's Matt Gelb, but there are better options and Nelson would likely slot in as a long man if the Phillies need it.

Try an unproven prospect

Cristopher Sanchez could get another crack at starting. He was a mid level prospect and is 26 now — and has had a handful of chances to start over the last three seasons. He's not been throughly impressive but has been better than Falter.

Someone in the Sanchez mold might get thrown into the fire to see if he sticks, like Michael Plassmeyer (who is on the 40-man roster and was impressive in camp), or Hans Crouse, who is doing okay in Triple-A. Seeing as the Phillies did not want to keep Strahm starting and really can't justify sticking with Falter, this unfortunately is the most likely short term option.

Mick Abel and Andrew Painter

Abel has pitched well in the minors so far, as the No. 2 prospect in the Phils farm system. He is a real possibility to crack the MLB rotation but it will probably take a few months, as the Phillies are likely to want to give him a little time in Triple-A before making the leap to the majors. 

Painter is the top prospect in the system and is nearing a return to the mound after an arm injury shortened his spring. He was the optimistic projection as a fifth starter for many before spring training began and he could theoretically be the answer by the trade deadline or even sooner. However he is not the short term fix the rotation desperately needs, and Abel would not be either.

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