Zack Wheeler’s wife gave birth to the couple’s first child, a baby boy, Monday evening, providing some clarity to the Philadelphia Phillies’ rotation.
Wheeler will not miss any time, manager Joe Girardi said Wednesday afternoon. The 30-year-old – who the Phillies inked to a five-year/$118 million deal in the offseason – will make his Phillies debut on Saturday against the Miami Marlins. Girardi had previously announced that Aaron Nola would make his third consecutive opening day start.
Meanwhile, Vince Velasquez, who has been very impressive in summer camp, will start the final game of the Phillies opening series against the Marlins. Velasquez pitched five plus innings against the New York Yankees Monday, showing off an improved arsenal of breaking pitches to pair with his fastball.
Jake Arrieta, entering the final season of a three-year/$75 million deal, will start the fourth game of the season, when the Phillies host the aforementioned Yankees. Girardi said not to read too far into Velasquez leapfrogging Arrieta in the rotation. Velasquez last pitched on Monday, while Arrieta threw in an intrasquad game on Wednesday, so the rotation order is just based off of making sure the two have appropriate time in between starts.
While there is clarity on who will make the first four starts of the season for the Phillies, the club still isn’t sure who will pitch the fifth game.
Zach Eflin appears to be the favorite, though the 26-year-old had a set-back earlier in summer camp that has kept that from being certain. However, after missing a few days with back spasms, the Phillies liked what they saw from Eflin in a two-inning simulated game last Saturday morning at Citizens Bank Park. Eflin is scheduled to pitch in a simulated game again on Thursday. Girardi says the Phillies are hoping he can pitch four innings and/or throw 60 pitches and feel well Friday morning.
If things pan out for Eflin, that could make Nick Pivetta the odd man out. Presumably, after a disappointing 2019 season, that would mean that Pivetta would begin the season in the bullpen for the Phillies, a role some feel he could potentially thrive in.
Whether Eflin or Pivetta fills out the fifth spot, they may not be there for very long. No. 1 overall prospect Spencer Howard was optioned on Tuesday evening, but largely because the Phillies can gain an extra year of service time if he spends the first six days (five games) not on the major league roster. After that, there’s a very real chance the electric 23-year-old will join the starting rotation.
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