In a few weeks, likely before the end of August, Nick Pivetta will eclipse his career high for innings pitched in a major-league season. So, too, will Vince Velasquez and all-star ace Aaron Nola. Zach Eflin is already there.
And still, the Phillies took a pass on adding a starter by the trade deadline.
"That tells us, as a team, that the front office is confident in the players that we have here to get the job done," said Jake Arrieta, the lone veteran in a starting rotation that is chock-full of 26-and-under greenhorns. "It makes a statement. I think it's something the players are happy about."
Oh, but it's more than that. It also represents a gamble by general manager Matt Klentak. It's calculated, of course, but a gamble nonetheless.
Across baseball, contenders beefed up their rotations for the stretch run. The Chicago Cubs traded for Cole Hamels. The Atlanta Braves added Kevin Gausman. The New York Yankees grabbed J.A. Happ and Lance Lynn, and fellow AL East superpower Boston Red Sox scooped up Nathan Eovaldi. Even the suddenly surging Pittsburgh Pirates went big with a blockbuster for Chris Archer.
The Phillies opted for infielder Asdrubal Cabrera and catcher Wilson Ramos in a pair of deals to improve the offense and reliever Aaron Loup to add a lefty specialist to the bullpen.
Starters? Neither a priority nor, apparently, a need.
"We are really excited about our starting pitching," Klentak said. "No matter how you measure it, our starting five have been among the better starting fives in baseball this year. I recognize that that's not every single night. But the total body of work puts us at or near the top."
Indeed, Phillies starters have combined for a 3.81 ERA, fifth best among National League rotations. They rank second in walks/hits per inning pitched (1.218) and fourth in opponents' slugging percentage (.390). For connoisseurs of advanced metrics, they have a 3.76 expected fielding independent pitching (xFIP), third in the NL behind only Los Angeles Dodgers and Arizona Diamondbacks starters.
So, yes, there's good reason to be bullish. And the Phillies are right to want Velasquez, Pivetta and Eflin to continue taking their regular turns in the rotation to determine if they can stay there for the long term. But it's August now, and they are all about to be pushed to new levels.
Pivetta, for example, worked 133 innings in the big leagues as a rookie last season. He's at 107 2/3 innings entering his scheduled start Thursday night at home against the Miami Marlins. If he continues to start every fifth game, he will make 11 more starts, which would put him on pace to finish with 162 innings.
Velasquez is on pace for 165 innings, more than his high of 131 in 2016. Nola hasn't shown any signs of fatigue, his eight-inning gem Monday night in Boston standing as perhaps his finest outing in a Cy Young-worthy season. And the meticulousness of his preparation between starts is a source of amazement in the clubhouse. It is notable, though, that he's on a 213-inning pace that would far exceed his career-high total of 168 innings set last season.
All young pitchers must push through those barriers. But it can be more challenging when it's happening in the thick of a playoff race when every pitch is important, every inning stressful.
Arrieta did it as well as any pitcher ever. In 2015, after having never pitched more than 156 2/3 innings in a major-league season, he logged 229 innings and won the Cy Young Award for a Cubs team that clinched a wild-card berth and advanced to the NL Championship Series.
"It's all about health and how you feel physically," Arrieta said. "If these guys are capable of being able to continue to go out there strong and healthy, command their stuff and maintain their stuff throughout the duration of their starts, they're going to be fine. Those are things that we're definitely going to have to evaluate once we get to a certain point."
Arrieta's advice: Be aggressive and don't waste pitches. There are times, he said, when it's appropriate to pitch around a hitter as a strategy for navigating a lineup. But as the season wears on, Arrieta said it's wise to limit walks even more than usual.
If any of the Phillies starters should need a break, Klentak noted the Phillies' pitching depth at triple A, citing righthander Enyel De Los Santos and lefties Ranger Suarez and Cole Irvin by name. De Los Santos and Suarez have already earned their first major-league wins in spot starts. Drew Anderson and Ben Lively also are triple-A pitchers with major-league experience.
"We have depth to support the five in the big leagues right now," Klentak said. "You've heard me say it before and I'm happy to repeat it: If you can stay out of the trade market for starting pitching at the trade deadline, you should do that because it tends to be very expensive. It's a credit to our international, amateur, and professional scouts and their efforts over the last few years that we have starting pitching right now. We don't take that for granted, and we're happy to not have to play in that market."
It's rare, though, for a team to wager that it has enough pitching depth. The Phillies just took that gamble.