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Dombrowski, Girardi offer updates on Eflin, Wheeler & more


Philadelphia Phillies president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski and manager Joe Girardi both met with the assembled media at Clearwater Sunday morning. Below are some of the highlights.

Zach Eflin is entering a contract year.(Rich Graessle/Icon Sportswire)

Zach Eflin’s Health

Eflin had season-ending surgery on his right patellar tendon last Sept. 10, which came with an initial recovery timeline of six to eight months.

While that led many to believe that the Phillies would be without Eflin to begin the season, it sounds as though one of the longest-tenured players on the team is tracking towards the front half of that recovery timeline.

“From a health perspective, everything is encouraging. One that comes to mind is Eflin, right off the bat,” Dombrowski said in response to a question asked by Matt Gelb of The Athletic. “He has thrown numerous bullpens already. He feels good. He has not moved around the mound fielding his position yet, but we are getting close to him being able to do that. So the anticipation is very encouraging about him being ready for the season to start.”

Set to turn 28 in April, Eflin is entering a contract year. He went 4-7 with a 4.17 ERA, 3.68 FIP and 2.2 fWAR across 105 2/3 innings a season ago.

Zack Wheeler is entering his third season with the Phillies. (/Icon Sportswire)

Zack Wheeler Is A Bit Behind

Update: We’ve since learned that Wheeler experienced shoulder soreness in December. Full story here.

Last year’s National League Cy Young Award runner-up is healthy and in camp. But after leading baseball with 213 1/3 innings pitched a season ago, Wheeler was cautious with his workload this offseason, especially considering it wasn’t clear until a few days ago when the season would start.

With that, Dombrowski said that the 31-year-old isn’t quite as far along as Aaron Nola and Kyle Gibson.

“One guy that’s a little behind is Wheeler. And really in Wheeler’s situation, [with] the number of innings that he threw last year, he was taking it very easy. He’s here. He’s not off the mound yet, but he’s ready to get off the mound very soon. So he may be a little behind, I’d say that. He’ll hopefully still be ready for the beginning of the season, I would think.”

Gelb followed up and asked if Wheeler — who saw an innings increase of 142 1/3 last year — had dealt with any injuries that put him in a position where he’s playing catch up now.

“No, it was really more of a situation where for him, he was just slow,” Dombrowski responded. “And apparently — and, of course, I haven’t had this with him before — he is always slow to get ready for the season. That’s just how he is, he doesn’t throw much before he gets here off the mound. I haven’t seen him personally, but the medical reports about him are that everything is fine from a health perspective. He’ll just be in a position where he’s a little bit behind, as far as getting on the mound.”

Nola’s streak of four consecutive Opening Day starts was seemingly in jeopardy, but perhaps not now.

“Normally — and this is Joe’s announcement — but normally you would expect that Zack Wheeler would be your Opening Day starter based upon what he’s done. I can’t tell you that he’s at that point where he’ll be ready. Now, could he be in the rotation that first time through? Yeah, he could be.”

If Nola makes his fifth consecutive Opening Day start, he’ll become the first Phillies pitcher since Steve Carlton to do that. Carlton — one of the greatest left-handed pitchers in MLB history — made 10 consecutive Opening Day starts between 1977 and 1986.

Ranger Suarez had a breakout season for the Phillies in 2021. (Cheryl Pursell)

Ranger Suárez’s Status Is Fluid

After a breakout 2021 season, Suárez isn’t yet in camp with the Phillies, though the situation doesn’t sound quite as bleak as it initially seemed.

“The only person, to my knowledge, that will be a little delayed [in arriving] is Ranger,” Dombrowski said. “He has his visa, but the way it works there is they have their visa, they have to get their passport back in the meantime. So that could take a couple more days. But until he has it in his hands, he can’t come into the country.”

Following this answer, Jim Salisbury of NBC Sports Philadelphia asked whether the belief is that Suárez will be able to get his passport and join the Phillies in the next two to four days.

“Do I expect him? Yes. But I also, when I say that, I’ve dealt with these experiences before and I have been in a position where sometimes it just takes longer due to circumstances. But I do know that he has his visa, but there they take your passport from you at that time, and then they give it back to you. So we’re expecting that he gets that passport back at any time. When he does, then he can proceed to the United States. I’m keeping my fingers crossed that it’s within the next day or two.”

Suárez, a native of Venezuela, posted a 1.36 ERA and 2.72 FIP across 106 innings a year ago. The 26-year-old is expected to be in the starting rotation once he’s in America and ready to go.

Didi Gregorius is entering his third season with the Phillies. (Cheryl Pursell)

Didi Gregorius Is Ready To Compete

The Phillies haven’t signed an external option that’s going to push Gregorius to be the Opening Day starter at shortstop, but Bryson Stott — the No. 3 prospect in the organization — is a non-roster invitee to Spring Training, and Dombrowski said he’s competing for a spot.

This isn’t shocking, as Dombrowski said at the conclusion of the 2021 season that the Phillies had informed Gregorius that he wasn’t guaranteed to be the Opening Day starter at shortstop.

Girardi, who has managed Gregorius in both New York and Philadelphia, believes that the 32-year-old will respond well to being pushed.

“Oh, I think Didi will take that challenge and he’s gonna fight, because Didi is a strong-minded person that really believe in himself,” said Girardi, who is entering his third season as Phillies manager. “You have to remember that this is a kid that had to walk into Yankee Stadium after Derek Jeter. I mean that’s a pretty tough thing to do. And he responded well. So I think he’ll really take this challenge and fight like crazy.”

Gregorius was an excellent offensive performer for the Phillies in the pandemic-shortened 2020 season, slashing .284/.339/.488 with 10 home runs, 40 RBIs and an .827 OPS across 60 games.

However, he struggled during an injury-riddled second season with the Phillies, slashing .209/.270/.370 with just a .639 OPS in 2021. When you add the -10 defensive runs saved that Gregorius posted last season, it paints a picture of a player who was very underwhelming.

Gregorius will make $14.5 million in 2022, the final year of his contract. He could theoretically benefit from the DH becoming universal this season.

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1 Comment

1 Comment

  1. Bill SHILLINGFORD

    March 13, 2022 at 5:34 pm

    Why ??,why ??? are the Phillies interested in Herrea .If he is on the opening day roster hell will freeze over before I walk into the stadium

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