Phillie Phodder: Aaron Nola's health, Roman Quinn's status, closer job

Phillie Phodder: Aaron Nola's health, Roman Quinn's status, closer job

READING, Pa. — Perhaps the most important issue facing the Phillies as they get set to open spring training is the health of pitcher Aaron Nola.

It won’t be possible to fully gauge the right-hander’s condition until he starts firing pitches against hitters in a competitive situation in February and March.

But less than a month before camp opens, Nola is optimistic that the elbow problems that forced him to miss the final two months of the 2016 season are resolved.

“I feel like the injury is past me,” he said during a Phillies winter caravan stop sponsored by the Double A Reading Fightin Phils on Tuesday night. “I feel back to normal.

“My arm is all good. One-hundred percent.”

Nola, 23, did not pitch after July 28 last season after being diagnosed with a pair of injuries near his elbow — a sprained ulnar collateral ligament and a strained flexor tendon.

Nola and the team opted for a conservative treatment plan that included rest, rehab and a PRP injection. The pitcher spent much of the fall on a rehab program in Clearwater that included his throwing from a bullpen mound. He took a couple of months off and recently began throwing again near his home in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.

“All through the rehab, I had no pain,” Nola said. “Probably in the middle of the rehab, I started feeling really good. Towards the end, I started upping the intensity a little bit. I knew after I took two months off I was going to be good. I started back up, throwing after Christmas and it felt really good when I cranked up. I’ve been throwing for a few weeks now. No pain, no hesitation. Not any of it.”

The Phillies selected Nola with the seventh overall pick in the 2014 draft with the hopes that he would be a foundation piece in the rotation for many years. Nola ascended to the majors in the summer of 2015 and recorded a 3.12 ERA in his first 25 big-league starts before hitting severe turbulence last summer. He had a 9.82 ERA in his final eight starts of 2016 before injuring his elbow during his final start.

Nola said he would report to Clearwater on Feb. 1. He does not expect to have any limitations in camp.

Manager Pete Mackanin is eager to see what Nola looks like in Clearwater.

“There's a part of me that’s concerned,” Mackanin said. “When guys don't have surgery and they mend with just rest, that makes me a little nervous. I don't want that to crop up again because then you lose a couple years instead of one year. But I defer to the medical people and believe in what they say and how he feels.”

Mackanin said he expected Nola to be in the five-man rotation along with Jeremy Hellickson, Jerad Eickhoff, Clay Buchholz and Vince Velasquez to open the season. Mackanin also mentioned Zach Eflin and others as being in the mix. The Phillies have some starting pitching depth and that’s a plus because pitchers' arms are fragile. Nola was the latest example of that last season. He said he’s healthy now, but he'll still be a center of attention in spring training.

More seasoning for Quinn
Mackanin acknowledged that the addition of veteran outfielder Michael Saunders probably means that Roman Quinn will open the season in Triple A.

“I don’t think it’s in our best interest or [Quinn’s] to be a part-time player at the big-league level, so I would think if things stay the way they are and if Saunders is on the team, I think it would behoove Quinn to play a full year of Triple A,” Mackanin said. “We have to find out if he can play 120 or 140 games, which he hasn’t done up to this point. We hope he can because, to me, he’s a potential game changer.”

Morgan to the bullpen?
Mackanin suggested that lefty Adam Morgan could be used as a reliever in camp. The Phillies have just one lefty reliever (Joely Rodriguez) on their 40-man roster. If Morgan pitches well out of the bullpen, he could be a candidate to make the club. Non-roster lefties Sean Burnett and Cesar Ramos could also be in the mix.

Another chance for Gomez
Jeanmar Gomez saved 37 games in 2016 before struggling down the stretch and losing the closer’s job. Hector Neris finished up in the role.

So how will competition for the job shake out in Clearwater?

“I wouldn’t say it’s wide open,” Mackanin said. “I’m going to give Gomez every opportunity to show that he’s the guy that pitched the first five months and not the guy that pitched in September.”

Instant Replay: Diamondbacks 6, Phillies 1

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Instant Replay: Diamondbacks 6, Phillies 1

BOX SCORE

PHOENIX -- The Phillies suffered one of their more unsightly losses of the season on Monday afternoon as they absorbed a 6-1 beating at the hands of the Arizona Diamondbacks.

Rookie right-hander Nick Pivetta did not make it out of the third inning.

The Phillies won the first game of the series, 6-1, then lost the next three, scoring just four runs in the process. They went 1-6 against the Diamondbacks in the season series.

The Phils have the worst record in the majors at 24-51. They are 10-31 on the road. They are on pace for 110 losses.

Arizona is 49-28.

Starting pitching report
Pivetta (1-4) was rocked for six runs in 2 2/3 innings in his ninth big-league start. He had trouble throwing strikes — five walks — and when he threw strikes, they were often hit — seven hits.

Control has been an issue for Pivetta in the big leagues. He walked 16 in his first six starts then just three in his next two, which were both quality starts. He threw 84 pitches in his short stay Monday.

Arizona's Zack Greinke (9-4) was not particularly sharp, lasting just five innings, throwing 102 pitches and walking three, but he managed to hold the Phillies to three hits and one run while striking out five.

Bullpen report
Adam Morgan picked up Pivetta and pitched scoreless ball for 3 1/3 innings. He allowed one hit, one walk and struck out five.

Arizona's bullpen picked up four shutout innings.

At the plate
The Phils actually had some chances to get in this game, but they left two men on base in the first and sixth innings and the bases loaded in the fifth. They were just 1 for 7 with runners in scoring position.

All five of the Phillies' hits were singles.

Chris Herrmann hit a leadoff homer against Pivetta on a 95-mph fastball. Arizona scored two in the second and blew it open with three in the third, two on a single by Daniel Descalso.

Transaction
The Phillies sent struggling reliever Edubray Ramos to Triple A and recalled reliever Ricardo Pinto.

Health check
Howie Kendrick can hit, but defense is a problem. He could end up on the disabled list. Also, Jared Eickhoff will miss one more start. Updates here (see story).

Up next
The Phillies play a quick, two-game interleague series in Seattle on Tuesday and Wednesday. Here are the pitching matchups:

Tuesday night — RHP Aaron Nola (4-5, 4.32) vs. LHP James Paxton (5-2, 3.39)

Wednesday afternoon — RHP Mark Leiter Jr. (1-0, 3.60) vs. Felix Hernandez (3-2, 4.68).

Phillies Injury Update: DL possible for Kendrick; Eickhoff to miss another start

Phillies Injury Update: DL possible for Kendrick; Eickhoff to miss another start

PHOENIX — Howie Kendrick was not in the Phillies' starting lineup for a fifth straight day on Monday because of a hamstring problem that, as the player said, "hasn't gotten any better, but it hasn't gotten any worse either."

Kendrick can pinch-hit — he, in fact, had hits in the role on Friday and Sunday — but playing defense is another matter.

"I kind of stinks because I can function, I can still hit, but as far as getting up to full speed and exploding the way I'd like to, it's still restricting me," he said.

Kendrick's ability to hit — not to mention his .361 batting average in 122 at-bats — makes him a prime candidate to serve as the designated hitter when the Phillies open a two-game interleague series Tuesday night in Seattle. But as far as playing second base when the Phillies return to National League action Friday night in New York …

That's the issue.

"The trouble with defense you’re exploding with every play, especially up the middle," Kendrick said. "I just don’t feel as comfortable exploding off it every time. As far as hitting and pinch-hitting goes you can govern that a little more when you run. You can control the rate of speed, but as far as defense you have to react to the ball."

Kendrick could end up on the disabled list if he's not ready to play defense by Friday night.

"That’s something we talked about, but I don’t know what’s going to happen yet," he said. "We’ll see."

Kendrick missed six weeks earlier this season with an abdominal injury.

In other health matters, pitcher Jerad Eickhoff will remain on the disabled list and Mark Leiter Jr. will make a second start on Wednesday in Seattle. Leiter filled in for Eickhoff on Friday night and pitched six shutout innings in his first big-league start.

Eickhoff believes he has completely recovered from an upper-back strain.

"I think they just want to err on the side of caution," he said. "I feel like I could throw Wednesday, but in all honestly, maybe that would be too quick. We'd rather be safe than sorry and finish the season strong and not risk a setback. So if we can knock this thing out with three or four more days, that's the way to go."

Eickhoff has felt good in bullpen workouts but has not reached game intensity. It's possible he could make a minor-league rehab start later this week before returning to the rotation next week.