What will Gabe Kapler do today? Kapler has certainly kept it interesting so far, and Wednesday's 4-1 win over Baltimore was no different. He called on Hector Neris to record just the final out of the ninth inning after Edubray Ramos had done the heavy lifting for the first two outs. Neris, Kapler said, "matched up beautifully." He sure did. The Phillies are eight games over .500. Don't ever change, Gabe.
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The Phillies actually will have to think later this month about which pitcher they will remove from the starting rotation when they activate Jerad Eickhoff from the disabled list.
It's been a while since the Phillies had a starting rotation of five competent pitchers. It seemed over the last few seasons that there was always one dud who could easily be pushed out once a pitcher such as Eickhoff was ready to return. There was little thought needed when it came time to trim the back of the rotation.
Nick Pivetta was excellent yesterday and delivered the type of start — one run and 11 strikeouts over seven innings — that virtually secures him a spot in the rotation. Vince Velasquez, coming off a 12-strikeout game, will have his chance to secure his spot tonight in St. Louis. And it was once easily assumed that Zach Eflin would be the odd man out once Eickhoff returned. But the Phillies will have a tough time sending Eflin back to triple A if he pitches Saturday the way he has pitched in his first two starts.
The Phillies finally have some good problems at the back of their rotation. The rotation, headed by Aaron Nola and Jake Arrieta, has a 1.92 ERA in 12 May starts. Take away Pivetta's ugly day in Washington, and the rotation has a 1.17 ERA this month. Pivetta's start Wednesday was the 10th time this month that a Phillies starter allowed one or zero runs. The starters are more than just competent. Now, they just have to make room for Eickhoff.
"He's earned that. So, we're going to set our sights on him [Eflin] joining the rotation," general manager Matt Klentak said. "We still have a few weeks until that day comes, but when that time comes, we'll make the best decision we can based on the information that we have at that moment. A lot can change between now and his activation date."
Nick Pivetta, Gabe Kapler said, had "dominating stuff" yesterday and that seems a pretty apt description considering the way the righthander handled the Orioles. Pivetta retired 12 batters in a row, and his fastball touched 96 mph in his final inning of work. The pitcher said his day was "satisfying."
Kapler explains why he took out Edubray Ramos in the ninth inning after he needed just six pitches to strike out the first two batters. The ninth inning will not be orthodox now that the Phillies do not have a defined closer. Colleague Scott Lauber even gave the approach a name: "Bullpen by Gabe."
The Phillies sent Mark Leiter Jr. to triple A and will make a move before tonight's game in St. Louis. Both Adam Morgan and Victor Arano are ready to be activated from the disabled list, and at least one of them will join the Phillies in St. Louis.
Today: Phillies open four-game series in St. Louis, 7:15 p.m.
Tomorrow: Jake Arrieta vs. Michael Wacha, 8:15 p.m.
Saturday: Zach Eflin makes the afternoon start, 2:15 p.m.
Sunday: A nice matchup of Aaron Nola vs. Jack Flaherty, 2:15 p.m.
Monday: Phillies return home to play the first-place Braves, 7:05 p.m.
Luis Garcia came through in another key spot Wednesday when he recorded the final two outs of the eighth inning and extinguished an Orioles rally. The reliever retired Manny Machado with the bases loaded to strand the two runners he had inherited from Tommy Hunter. Garcia has stranded all 15 of his inherited runners this season. He is one of just three relievers in baseball to have at least 10 inherited runners and strand them all. Garcia has not allowed a hit in his last seven appearances and has quietly emerged as a key piece of a solid bullpen.