Some guesses on how the Phillies' 25-man roster might shake out

Some guesses on how the Phillies' 25-man roster might shake out

CLEARWATER, Fla. -- The Phillies will open their 135th season two weeks from today in Cincinnati.

As the team begins to wind down its stay in Florida, there are still some interesting roster decisions to be made.

Let's take a look.

First, what we know -- barring an injury or late development, of course.

The starting pitching rotation will consist of Jeremy Hellickson, who was named opening day starter on Sunday (see story). He will be followed by Jerad Eickhoff, Clay Buchholz, Vince Velasquez and Aaron Nola.

Easy enough.

The starting eight position players are set with a projected batting order of:

Cesar Hernandez, 2B
Howie Kendrick, LF
Odubel Herrera, CF
Maikel Franco, 3B
Michael Saunders, RF
Tommy Joseph, 1B
Cameron Rupp, C
Freddy Galvis, SS

OK, let's move on to a couple of areas that are still unsettled.

Pete Mackanin will carry five men on his bench. Utility infielder Andres Blanco and outfielder Aaron Altherr are locks.

That leaves three spots, one of which must be a backup catcher. The Phillies have a very tight 40-man roster and they don't want to risk losing too many players on waivers. This should ultimately work in Andrew Knapp's favor. He is already on the 40-man roster and that could help him get the nod, even though he has not shined with the bat this spring.

Veterans Ryan Hanigan and Bryan Holaday are the other candidates for backup catcher, but they could end up on the wrong side of the equation because neither is on the 40-man roster.

So let's say Knapp is the third guy on the bench.

Who are the other two?

Infielder Jesmuel Valentin is still in camp and he's on the 40-man roster. But we see him heading to Triple A, where he can play second base every day. In fact, the way this roster shapes up, Blanco will probably be the only extra infielder. If the Phils get in a pinch, Kendrick can help at second or third -- in fact, he took balls at third a few days ago -- while the Phils summon help from the minors.

Outfielder Tyler Goeddel, also on the 40-man roster, is still in camp, but he'd benefit from time in the minors, where he could recoup the at-bats he lost as a Rule 5 stash last season.

So, now we're basically down to three players for the final two spots on the bench -- and none of them are on the 40-man roster.

It's going to be difficult to keep Brock Stassi off this roster. He has swung the bat exceptionally well in camp and played well at first base. His lefty bat could be nice to have around when Tommy Joseph gets a day off against a righty pitcher. He can also play the corner outfield spots.

The guess here -- two weeks before the gates open in Cincinnati -- is that Stassi makes the club.

That leaves Chris Coghlan and Daniel Nava competing for the final spot on the bench. Coghlan plays three outfield spots and both corner infield spots. Nava plays corner outfield, first base, and he's hitting .429 with a 1.051 OPS this spring. Tough call there. Right now, Nava might have the edge.

Coghlan does have an out in his minor-league contract during the final week of camp and Nava does not. That may not be a factor.

Moving to the bullpen, five of the seven spots are filled with:

Jeanmar Gomez
Hector Neris
Joaquin Benoit
Edubray Ramos
Pat Neshek

They are all right-handers.

Manager Pete Mackanin would like to have two lefties in the bullpen, though he might end up with just one.

The simple way of solving this would be to carry Joely Rodriguez and Adam Morgan, both of whom are on the 40-man roster. That would leave veterans Cesar Ramos and Sean Burnett out. Burnett has an out in his contract during the final week, while Ramos does not, so maybe he would stick around and go to Triple A and wait for a shot.

The complication here could be Luis Garcia. The hard-throwing right-hander, who is on the 40-man roster, has added a splitter to his repertoire and some are intrigued by that. And then there's the whole question of a long man. Could Morgan fill that role, or would the club use right-hander Alec Asher there, leaving Rodriguez as the only lefty?

So it looks as if there are four legitimate candidates -- Rodriguez, Morgan, Asher and Garcia -- for the final two spots in the bullpen. All are aided by their place on the 40-man roster.

In the end, the Phils will likely have to clear two spots on the 40-man roster to finalize their opening day roster. The team could roll the dice and try to get Goeddel through waivers, though that might be tough to do because there is probably some team out there that would claim a young outfielder with options.

Morgan's place is so unpredictable that he could make the team as a long man or be the victim of a roster squeeze and end up on waivers sometime next week.

Of course, a trade or an injury could clear up a lot of questions. But two weeks before opening day, the Phillies clearly have some interesting decisions to make.

Best of MLB: Aaron Judge breaks Mark McGwire's HR rookie record, Yankees top Royals

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Best of MLB: Aaron Judge breaks Mark McGwire's HR rookie record, Yankees top Royals

NEW YORK -- Aaron Judge circled the bases for the 50th time this season, breaking Mark McGwire's major league record for home runs by a rookie, and returned to the Yankees dugout to exchange handshakes, hugs and high-fives with excited teammates.

And then, he walked up the steps and back onto the field.

Embarrassed by the attention, he managed four short waves with his right hand before heading back to the bench just three seconds later.

"They kind of told me: `You got to go out there. You got to go out there,'" he would later recall. "First curtain call. I hope it was a good one."

Judge had his second straight two-homer game in an 11-3 rout of Kansas City on Monday. On an unseasonably warm autumn afternoon, the Yankees won for the 16th time in 22 games during a playoff push that earned no worse than a wild card.

The 6-foot-7, 25-year-old slugger tied McGwire's 1987 mark with a two-run drive to right-center off Jakob Junis (8-3) in the third inning that put New York ahead 3-0, driving a 93 mph high fastball 389 feet about a half-dozen rows into the right field seats (see full recap).

Russell makes food run, Cubs beat Cards to near clinch
ST. LOUIS -- Say cheese!

Addison Russell and the Chicago Cubs were all smiles after moving within a victory of another division title Monday night.

Russell hit a three-run double in the first inning, then made a food run for a fan in enemy territory while the Cubs beat the St. Louis Cardinals 10-2. Chicago can wrap up the division with a win Tuesday against the Cardinals or a loss by Milwaukee against Cincinnati.

Russell helped the Cubs get to starter Luke Weaver (7-2) early, then made some friends out of rival fans. After diving into the stands chasing a foul ball down the third-base line and spilling a man's tray of chips, Russell emerged from the dugout a few innings later with a plate of nachos and delivered it to the fan. Russell stopped to take a selfie before heading back to play shortstop.

"That was pretty entertaining," Cubs manager Joe Maddon said (see full recap).

Donaldson, Blue Jays stop Red Sox winning streak at 6
BOSTON -- The Boston Red Sox would like to get the AL East wrapped up quickly so they can start resting some banged-up players.

Josh Donaldson homered and drove in three runs, powering the Toronto Blue Jays past the first-place Red Sox 6-4 on Monday night.

Boston's six-game winning streak was snapped and its magic number to clinch a second straight division title remained at three. The Red Sox lead the second-place New York Yankees, who beat Kansas City earlier in the day, by four games with six remaining.

But the most important thing for the Red Sox was the loss of two key players to injuries. For how long? They don't know yet.

Eduardo Nunez and Mookie Betts both left the game early. Nunez aggravated a right knee injury that sidelined him for 13 games, and Betts came out with pain in his left wrist (see full recap).

Rangers fall to Astros, wild-card hopes fading
ARLINGTON, Texas -- Marwin Gonzalez had four hits and three RBIs as the AL West champion Houston Astros beat Texas 11-2 on Monday night, putting the Rangers on the brink of elimination in the wild-card race.

Houston second baseman Jose Altuve, the American League leader with 199 hits and a .348 batting average, left in the eighth inning after he was hit by a 95 mph fastball. The team said X-rays were negative and Altuve had a bruised forearm.

Gonzalez had two hits and scored twice in an eight-run fourth, including a two-run single that chased starter Andrew Cashner (10-11). Gonzalez later hit his 23rd homer, a solo shot in the sixth.

Collin McHugh (4-2) struck out six while throwing 112 pitches in five innings. The right-hander is 15-0 with a 2.94 ERA in 19 starts in September or October during his four seasons with the Astros (see full recap).

In final start of 2017, Aaron Nola establishes himself as Phillies' best pitcher in loss

In final start of 2017, Aaron Nola establishes himself as Phillies' best pitcher in loss

BOX SCORE

Before beginning a season-ending six-game homestand Monday night, Phillies manager Pete Mackanin singled out Aaron Nola when asked about the positives of what is mostly a dismal 2017 season. 

“Nola has really established himself,” Mackanin said pregame. “To me, he’s a solid No. 3 starter.”

Nola then looked the part in what was likely his final start of the year, using a sharp curveball to strike out nine over six innings in the Phillies’ 3-1 loss to the Washington Nationals at Citizens Bank Park (see observations)

“I felt like just the command and getting ahead of hitters helped out this year,” Nola said. 

Returning from elbow surgery that ended his 2016 season in July, Nola (12-11) became the best starter on the team thanks to the development of a changeup in spring training to go with his fastball and dominant curveball. 

“I felt a lot stronger,” the soft-spoken Nola said when asked to sum up his season. “I felt like I was using my legs more and that increased my velocity a little bit.” 

Nola allowed two runs or fewer in 18 of his 27 starts. His 184 strikeouts are the most by a Phillies pitcher who made fewer than 30 starts in a season. 

“I wouldn’t call him a power pitcher. He doesn’t appear to be a strikeout pitcher,” Mackanin said. “But when you can locate your fastball and get ahead with your fastball down in the strike zone and have that kind of curveball and then you add that kind of changeup, now the hitter has three pitches to worry about.”

He struck out 36 over his final four starts and 25 1/3 innings, using his sweeping curve as an out pitch. All but one of his strikeouts Monday night came on the curve. 

“It’s been good,” Nola said. “I’ve been able to command it on both sides of the plate and down, which has helped me. I felt like my fastball command was better this year than it was last year.” 

In a rotation in which basically nothing else is settled, Nola gives the Phillies an anchor for next season. The 24-year-old LSU product has a 3.54 ERA and the changeup gives him three quality pitches. 

“It’s been kind of the cherry on top, a little bit, being able to throw that right-on-right,” catcher Andrew Knapp said of the changeup. “It’s a hard pitch to hit when you’re a left-handed hitter. But when you’re right-handed and coming to that back foot, it’s a really good pitch.” 

Nola retired the first four hitters before Jayson Werth singled and Michael A. Taylor followed by crushing a 3-1 fastball into the left-field seats for his 17th homer. 

It was the 18th home run allowed by Nola. But he got into a groove from there. Facing a lineup without Bryce Harper, Daniel Murphy and Anthony Rendon, Nola held the NL East champions to two runs and five hits with two walks. 

But it didn’t prevent the Phillies from losing for the fourth time in five games. 

Odubel Herrera’s solo home run on an 0-2 pitch from A.J. Cole (3-5) in the fourth was all the offense the Phillies could muster. They’ve managed seven runs in four games. 

Rhys Hoskins is slumping (0 for 4 and hasn’t homered since Sept. 14) and Nick Williams struck out three times. 

“Our bats have gone silent for a few days now,” Mackanin said. 

They still have to win one more to avoid 100 losses, and many changes are possible in the offseason. Mackanin said before the game that “I still don’t know if I’ll be back here next year," (see story)

It’s a team that still has plenty of holes and lots of questions ahead of 2018. 

Nola, though, appears to be someone they can rely on. 

“The goal is to have five [reliable] guys on every start. But it’s nice,” Mackanin said. “When Nola pitches, we all expect to win. He’s done an outstanding job. He’s had the arm issues, but he came back from that better than he was before.”