Phillies Spring Training Position Preview: Starting Rotation

If the Phillies rotation stays healthy, it could be a fun summer with (gasp!) more wins than losses. But, if it doesn’t, it could be another year in the NL-East dungeon.

Heading into Spring Training, the Phillies rotation is set, made up of three young guys (Aaron Nola, Vince Velasquez, and Jerad Eickhoff) and two veterans (Jeremy Hellickson and Clay Buchholz).

Who will get the Opening Day start for the team? That’s to be determined. What we do know is the team’s destiny lives on the arms of the young guys, all with varying skill-sets but with one thing in common: mental toughness.

“One of the things that stood out in the short time we’ve seen them is their emotional maturity on the mound,” Phillies broadcaster Larry Andersen recently told Philly.com. “They don’t seem to get rattled. They have an idea. Win or they lose, the majority of them move on and have the mind-set of getting better for the next game.”

Of the three, Nola and Velasquez offer the biggest reward — and biggest risk.

Last year, Nola looked like the future Greg Maddux we were sold, racking up a 5-4 record and a 2.65 ERA through his first 12 starts, before an achy elbow ended his season by August. Recently, Nola declared he was healthy, and we’ll soon find out, won’t we?

At times last season, Velasquez did his best Curt Schilling impression. (The kid struck 16 Padres one chilly April afternoon.) However, he also piled up gigantic pitch counts in short outings, concerning the Phillies so much that the team shut him down after his Sept. 3 start. He’s already had one Tommy John surgery, and the Phils are trying to avoid another.

In regards to mound presence, Andersen said that Eickhoff is “absolutely the best of them all.” The big-bodied right-hander may be the most durable as well, throwing just under 200 innings last season and winning 11 games.

Back to the vets – Hellickson and Buchholz –  whom the club would love to put up big numbers, not for a pennant push, but for bait at the trade deadline. Both have one-year deals in Philly, and there’s a chance neither will be here come August. Last year, the Phillies heavily peddled Hellickson and almost had him traded to the Marlins before the deal collapsed.

He ended up with solid stats for the year with 12 wins and a 3.71 ERA.

In December, the Phillies sent a low-level minor leaguer to Boston in exchange for Buchholz, a starting pitcher who’s been big on potential but has never thrown 190 innings due to a pesky injury bug in a ten-year career.

If Hellickson and/or Buchholz get shipped out, the reinforcements include a cast of thousands (almost) with Jake Thompson, Zach Eflin, Alec Asher, Ben Lively, Nick Pivetta and Adam Morgan all waiting in the minor or in the bullpen.

Philadelphia’s rotation is pretty much set heading into the 2017 season. The team hopes that position of strength will help them better their record and/or provide a position of depth from which to trade from at this year’s deadline.

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