Phillies president Andy MacPhail talks pitching injuries, how they will impact future dealings

Phillies president Andy MacPhail talks pitching injuries, how they will impact future dealings

NEW YORK -- It wasn't difficult to understand the Phillies' strategy in trading for veteran pitchers Jeremy Hellickson, Charlie Morton and Clay Buchholz over the last two seasons.

The Phillies gave up little in the form of talent to get the three pitchers. All they had to do was be willing to take on sizable one-year contracts because the three pitchers were salary dumps for their previous clubs. For their money, the Phillies added some veteran fortification to a young starting staff while rolling the dice that said veteran might perform well enough to bring back some value on the July trade market.

The strategy was sound.

But it has not worked.

"We're batting .333," club president Andy MacPhail said on Tuesday night.

Buchholz exited his second start with the club last week with a flexor-pronator injury near his right elbow and on Tuesday had surgery that with a recovery time of four to six months will end his season (see story).

Morton made four starts last season before blowing out his hamstring so severely that it ripped off the bone.

Hellickson pitched well for the club last season and continues to this season, but the Phillies' hope of getting value for him during last July's trade season never materialized, nor did the club's hope of turning him into a first-round draft pick this June. That scenario was scuttled when the pitcher accepted the team's qualifying offer of $17.2 million for this season.

For the $22.5 million that the Phillies sunk into Morton and Buchholz, they got six starts, 24 2/3 innings and a 6.56 ERA.

"I don't think anybody likes it," MacPhail said of the lack of return that the team got on Morton and Buchholz. "How could you like it? Nobody likes to see a $14 million investment go before you get [to the third start]."

Buchholz, 32, pitched just 7 1/3 innings in two starts and was tagged for 16 hits and 10 runs. He also pitched poorly in spring training but did not complain of an injury until he exited last Tuesday night's start.

MacPhail said Buchholz's fastball velocity in spring training was down "two or three miles per hour" from where the pitcher was at the end of last season with Boston.

Buchholz's drop in velocity and subsequent injury raises questions of whether he was healthy when the Phillies acquired him. The Red Sox apparently believed he was. They picked up his $13.5 million option for 2017 on Nov. 3, weeks before sending him to Philadelphia for minor-league infielder Josh Tobias on Dec. 20, and the Phillies performed customary pre-trade medical vetting.

Buchholz did miss the second half of the 2015 season with an elbow strain, but he finished 2016 by going 4-0 with a 2.63 ERA in seven starts from Aug. 18 until the end of the season.

The injuries to Buchholz and Morton, who also was 32 when the Phillies acquired him, illustrate the risks that teams take when they decide to acquire pitchers in their 30s.

"When these things happen, as an organization, we review everything that had us reach those decisions," MacPhail said. "It's just the nature of what you're dealing with. It goes to underscore the importance of having numbers [depth] and developing pitchers in your system.

"In Morton's case, he was injured trying to leg out a bunt. What you can do differently is not have to depend upon getting pitching from that area, really. I think there's a difference between reviewing your decision-making process and determining if there were any pieces of information that you should have considered that you didn't. I don't think that's the case. It's the nature of what you're dealing with. It's one of the reasons that you haven't seen us go beyond a year (in a contract). An organization can absorb an injury for a year. You just don't want one that's going to sink you."

MacPhail arrived in Philadelphia in the summer of 2015 and from the beginning made it clear that developing pitching would be an organizational priority. One of his mantras, dating to earlier stops in Baltimore and Chicago, is: "Grow the pitchers, buy the bats." Based on this ideology, it's difficult to envision the Phillies being big players in coming free-agent pitching markets. On the other hand, they could go big for a bat or two.

"I'm very confident that we're going to have the resources and the kind of ballpark where position players are going to be a lot easier to come by than pitching," MacPhail said. "Pitching is hard. I don't think that belief needed reinforcement. I have articulated that point. It's not a surprise, unfortunately.

"I think you have to stay open to any opportunity if it makes sense. But I have made it no secret, personally, that free-agent pitching is fragile and expensive by the time it gets to you. That said, I don't think you ever should rule anything out. We'll make decisions based on the information we have at the time."

Nick Pivetta excited for big-league debut — even if rainout delays it a few days

Nick Pivetta excited for big-league debut — even if rainout delays it a few days

The Phillies' starting pitching rotation, for the time being, features four arms that were acquired in trades that have coincided with the team's rebuild, which started after the 2014 season.

Nick Pivetta will become the latest to join the group when he is officially activated. He was in the Phillies' clubhouse Tuesday afternoon and was scheduled to pitch on Wednesday, but those plans changed when Tuesday night's game against the Miami Marlins was postponed because of rain.

No makeup date was announced.

The rainout means Pivetta's big-league debut will be pushed back. Vince Velasquez, Tuesday's scheduled starter, will pitch Wednesday night against the Marlins and Jeremy Hellickson will start the series finale Thursday. Jerad Eickhoff and Zach Eflin are likely to stay on turn and pitch Friday and Saturday in Los Angeles. That means Pivetta's debut will likely happen Sunday afternoon at Dodger Stadium. Not a bad venue for an unveiling. He does not have to be activated until that day. In the interim, the Phils are carrying an extra reliever in Mark Leiter Jr.

Even with the weather-related change in plans, Pivetta was thrilled to be in Philadelphia on Tuesday.

"I've achieved my goal of getting here eventually," the 24-year-old right-hander said. "I'm happy to be here. I want to get my feet on solid ground right now and just take it one step at a time."

Pivetta is a Canadian from Victoria, British Columbia, about 100 miles northwest of Seattle. As a kid, he watched Toronto Blue Jays' games on television and idolized Roy Halladay.

Victoria must now be Phillies territory. Michael Saunders, the team's rightfielder, also hails from the town.

"You see it more and more, more Canadians getting into the game of baseball, so it's always nice to see another one in the locker room," said Saunders, 30. "Clearly he's pitched well enough to earn his way up here and I'm looking forward to seeing him play."

Pivetta is 6-5, 225 pounds. He was originally selected by the Washington Nationals in the fourth round of the 2013 draft. The Phillies acquired him for Jonathan Papelbon and cash in July 2015.

Pivetta will take Aaron Nola's spot in the rotation. Nola is on the disabled list with tightness in his lower back. He could be back as soon as early next week.

Nola said he probably could have pushed himself and stayed in the rotation, but the team chose to be cautious.

"I don't think it's any big thing," Nola said.

With Pivetta on board, the Phillies now have four pitchers in their rotation that came over in "rebuild" trades.

Eflin arrived in the December 2014 deal that sent Jimmy Rollins to the Dodgers.

Eickhoff came in the July 2015 deal that sent Cole Hamels to the Rangers.

Velasquez came in the December 2015 trade that sent Ken Giles to the Astros.

Pivetta did not immediately pitch well upon joining the Phillies organization. He had a 7.31 ERA in seven starts for Double A Reading in the summer of 2015. In 28 1/3 innings, he struck out 25 and walked 19.

Pivetta was a different pitcher last season. He registered a 3.27 ERA in 148 2/3 innings between Double A and Triple A, struck out 138 and walked 51. That performance earned him a spot on the team's 40-man roster.

"In 2016, he showed us the potential to be a really good major-league pitcher," said Joe Jordan, the Phillies' director of player development. "He was a little excitable after the trade in 2015, but he came back calm and confident last year. His stuff is legit — 93 to 96 (mph) with life on the fastball, good breaking ball and good feel for the changeup."

His control continued to improve this season as he got off to a 3-0 start at Triple A. He pitched 19 innings, gave up just two earned runs, walked just two and struck out 24.

"Just getting ahead with my fastball," said Pivetta, explaining the early-season success that put him in line for the promotion. "First-pitch strikes are big. Even if I get into that 0-1 count or that 1-1 count, getting back to that 1-2 count is big. So being able to even up those counts have been really big for me, as well, and being able to finish off with my off-speed later in the counts, too."

Pivetta pitched for Team Canada in the World Baseball Classic in March. He made one start and took a no-decision in the team's 4-1 loss to Columbia. Pivetta worked four innings and allowed one run.

"That helped me," Pivetta said. "It was awesome. It was like having playoff baseball in March."

It's not clear how long Pivetta will stay in the big-league rotation. But he has more than put himself on the map, and if he continues to pitch well, he'll make more starts with the big club this season.

"I did not expect to be here this early in the season," he said. "I am happy to be here right now. I'll see how long I stay and just have fun while I am here."

Phillies-Marlins rained out Tuesday; makeup date to be determined

Phillies-Marlins rained out Tuesday; makeup date to be determined

Tuesday night's Phillies-Marlins game at Citizens Bank Park has been postponed because of rain.

Details for a makeup date will be announced at a later time.

The Phillies, winnners of four straight, were set to open a three-game set against Miami.

Following this series, the Phillies head out on a seven-game road trip starting Friday night against the Dodgers in Los Angeles.

Vince Velasquez, who was scheduled to pitch Tuesday, will now start Wednesday night's game, while Jeremy Hellickson will take the mound Thursday afternoon.