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March 21, 2017

Roster battles heating up as end of Phillies camp nears

FORT MYERS, Fla. – In just 10 days, the Phillies will pack up their things and leave the comfortable environs of Clearwater, Fla., for a quick pit stop in Philadelphia before arriving in Cincinnati on April 2, on the eve of Opening Day.

Freddy Galvis, who hit his first home run of the spring in the team’s 9-5 win over the Minnesota Twins on Tuesday, doesn’t have to fret over where his luggage is headed. He’s a lock for the Opening Day roster and to start at shortstop for the third consecutive opener.

Ditto Odubel Herrera, who rejoined the Phillies after a two-week stay with Team Venezuela in the World Baseball Classic. And newcomers Michael Saunders and Howie Kendrick – the latter who started at second base Tuesday – can continue to collect at-bats without a worry in the world, too.

While the Phillies lineup and starting rotation have been set for months, there is still plenty of intrigue with the remainder of the roster.

Can Pete Mackanin have two left-handers in his bullpen like he’d like to? Will early Grapefruit League season darling Brock Stassi win a spot on the team’s bench? And who has to be subtracted from a full 40-man roster in order to add non-roster players to the 25-man roster for Opening Day.

“Nobody knows,” Adam Morgan said with a laugh. “No one knows. I guess it’s just a big secret.”

Morgan is among the players entering the last 10 days of camp in a tenuous position. Heading into the winter, he was among a crowded group of starting pitchers on the roster, a group that grew even more crowded when Jeremy Hellickson returned and Clay Buchholz was acquired.

Heading into camp, Morgan seemed to be a favorite for one of the aforementioned left-handed bullpen jobs (and as the relief corps’ long man, too). But Morgan went 10 days in between Grapefruit League games before jogging out to the mound to take over for Jake Thompson on Tuesday in Fort Myers.

But it’s not like he’s been chilling in the clubhouse waiting for work. Morgan pitched in a minor league game in between that time, and also ditched a normal side session by pitching a live batting practice session.

Morgan put his proverbial best foot forward on Tuesday, retiring nine of the 11 batters he faced in three scoreless innings.

“We used the live BP as a side, where he had to mix up all his pitches and he did that today and was effective,” Mackanin said. “He upset the timing of hitters today, that's why he was effective. … He really had a good mixture of soft, hard. He kind of pitched backward today which the thing I think he's going to have to do to be successful and he showed us he can do that so that was encouraging.”

But there’s no telling where Morgan might be on April 3. He could be in the bullpen in Cincinnati, he could be headed to Triple-A Lehigh Valley, or he could be designated for assignment to make room on the roster for someone like Chris Coghlan, Brock Stassi, or Daniel Nava.

The way the Phillies roster is shaping up there are two vacancies on the bench (as long as you assume Andrew Knapp is the backup catcher) and unless one of them goes to infielder Jesmuel Valentin (who should continue to get at-bats at Triple-A as second base prospect) or Tyler Goeddel (who should get at-bats at Triple-A after missing out on development time on the big league bench last year), two of those spots would have to go to non-roster players.

In order to open two spots on the 40-man roster, two players must go.

Veteran reliever Luis Garcia seemed like an obvious choice entering camp. But as arguably the hardest thrower in the ‘pen (average fastball of 96.5 MPH last year) who has added a splitter this spring, Garcia is suddenly back in the good graces of the coaching staff and management. He’s struck out four, allowed just one hit, and issued no walks in four straight shutout appearances.

Would the team DFA the 27-year-old Morgan (one of the few left-handers in the upper levels of the system) and keep the 30-year-old Garcia in trying to open a spot?

Or perhaps Alec Asher (five runs on five hits and two walks in two innings of work on Tuesday) is designated for assignment? Or with a sudden glut of outfielders at or near Triple-A (Dylan Cozens, Nick Williams, Roman Quinn, Andrew Pullin, Cameron Perkins) perhaps the front office sees Goeddel as expendable, and he gets DFA’d?

Someone will have to go. No matter how you break down the math – barring a trade in the next two weeks – Matt Klentak and Co. are going to have to create at least one spot, and more likely, two.

“It’s going to be difficult to make the final decision because there are guys who are not on the roster that have made a good impression,” Mackanin said. “All I can say is it's going to be difficult to make that final decision.”

One other player that does know where he’s headed is Thompson. Despite graduating from the label as the organization’s top pitching prospect to the big league rotation last summer, and carrying a 3.62 ERA in five starts in September, Thompson will begin the 2017 season in the Triple-A Lehigh Valley rotation because of Hellickson returning and Buchholz being acquired.

“Nothing that I can control,” Thompson said Tuesday, when he preceded Morgan with three shutout innings of his own. “I can tell you definitely it makes the team better having those two veterans around kind of leading the way with both performance and in the clubhouse. Buchholz has won what, two or three World Series now. He’s been there. He’s been an All-Star. I’m pretty sure he was a Cy Young candidate one year. Those are great guys to look up to. Whenever you’re struggling they’ve definitely dealt with it before so they’re somebody you can go to.”

Thompson does have to get back on the big league roster, first, though. But at least he’s not in limbo like some of his teammates.

“I’m just trying to get everything rolling,” said Thompson, who was held back at the start of camp with a wrist injury. “I’m a little behind, but I’m trying to get my feet wet and control the things I can control and hopefully after that I’ll get another shot at it.”

Morgan began the year in the Triple-A rotation last year after competing all spring for the fifth starter job with Vince Velasquez. He's even more unsure how this spring will end, but at least he's mentally prepared for whatever happens.

"Last year," Morgan said, "I was like, ‘I’ve got a shot, I’ve got a shot’ and then ..."

Morgan made the sound effect that could best be described as a rug being swept from underneath his feet.

"You have to check your ego at the door," he said. "You’re never solidified, well in my case. If you have (more) years in and a contract, I guess. But you’re never solidified into a spot. So I just come in and do the best I can."

Follow Ryan on Twitter: @ryanlawrence21