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.

Phillies conclude miserable homestand with new low as Zach Eflin demoted to Triple A

Phillies conclude miserable homestand with new low as Zach Eflin demoted to Triple A

BOX SCORE

For a moment Sunday afternoon, Citizens Bank Park sprung to life as the Phillies strung together five hits in a four-run second inning.

But four home runs off starter Zach Eflin sent the Phillies to another defeat and Eflin to Lehigh Valley.

Eflin was optioned to Triple A following the Phillies' 8-4 loss to the Reds, in which he allowed seven runs on nine hits in just five innings of work (see Instant Replay)

"His first two-three outings were really good," manager Pete Mackanin said. "He was keeping the ball down, but his last three, including today, he's elevating his sinker and once you elevate that sinker, it doesn't have the effect that you'd like to have."

The Phillies have now lost nine consecutive series for the first time since 1997. The loss was their 22nd in 28 games and handed the Reds their first series win at CBP since August 2006.  

Eflin got off to a rocky start Sunday with three first-inning singles, allowing one run. He escaped further damage but then proceeded to give up a home run in each of his final four innings. The final home run — Adam Duvall's second on the day — came on an 0-2 pitch and extended Cincinnati's lead to 7-4. All of the Reds' hits off Eflin came on fastballs as their potent lineup feasted on his pitches high in the zone.

Two weeks ago, Eflin's ERA stood at 2.87 as he kept opponents in the ballpark with his hard sinker. However, starting with a May 17 outing in Texas, Eflin has allowed 22 runs in his last 15 innings. He's given up seven homers in his last two starts and at least nine hits in five consecutive outings as his ERA ballooned to 6.13. With Sunday's results, the Phillies were left little choice but to option the 23-year-old righty while he deals with a rough patch.

"There are some things I need to work on," Eflin said. "I need to do a better job of pitching backward, especially in fastball counts. There's a lot of things I need to work on, but at the end of the day, I'm not worried about it. I'm going to go down there, work on everything I need to work on and get back as soon as possible."

The Phillies will reinstate Howie Kendrick (oblique) off the 10-day disabled list Monday, Mackanin said, in a corresponding move after the veteran IF/OF completed a four-game rehab stint (see story)

Kendrick could help boost an offense that is scuffling. After a four-run second inning highlighted by Andrew Knapp's 434-foot three-run home run, the Phillies' bats fell silent. They strung together five more hits. However, three double plays and a few untimely strikeouts killed any further rallies.

The Phillies left a potential run stranded on third base in the fifth inning as Odubel Herrera and Aaron Altherr struck out against starter Scott Feldman, who waded into and out of trouble in five innings of work. Herrera went 0 for 4 with that strikeout, continuing to slump. His average has fallen to .217.

With Kendrick returning, Mackanin indicated he would give Herrera some days off soon to help him relax amid mounting pressure to hit.

"He's scuffling. A couple guys scuffling," Mackanin said. "I'll probably move him down in the lineup. I can't keep him in the two-hole. But he has to fight his way out. 

"We'll see when Kendrick gets here. We're going to have another outfielder. I'm going to mix and match and try to get everybody in there. Kendrick, I'm going to bring along slowly because I want to make sure he's healthy.

"In other words, I don't have a set outfield. I'm going to mix those guys up."

On the infield, Maikel Franco continued his slide Sunday, going 1 for 4 with a strikeout and a double play. The slugger is hitting .213 this month, just as he did in April, but his power is down with just two home runs. Kendrick, who only played left field in April, played third base while at Triple A, so he could potentially spell Franco as well.

"He hit a ball hard today but he's not giving us consistent at-bats," Mackanin said. "He's searching both physically and mentally. It's not easy for him. I can tell he's down on himself. He's not happy about what's going on."

The Phillies came into this week struggling and were unable to rebound against the Rockies and Reds, losing five of seven. They averaged just 2.42 runs during the homestand.

However, the bigger problem comes in the rotation. The team gave up 5.71 runs per game in their last seven despite a 23 2/3 inning scoreless streak from the bullpen. The rotation's struggles continue to plague the team as they carry the worst record in baseball into Miami for a three-game set starting Monday.

"I certainly expected more out of our starters," Mackanin said. "We've had some issues with [Aaron] Nola's arm and Clay Buchholz going down. Although [Jerad] Eickhoff is going to end up having a good year in my opinion. He's been a little bit hot and cold.

"And Eflin, I counted on him to have a big year this year. I think if he gets himself straightened out down in Triple A, I think he's going to come back strong. But certainly, I can't sit here and say I'm happy with [his performance]."

Instant Replay: Reds 8, Phillies 4

Instant Replay: Reds 8, Phillies 4

BOX SCORE

Zach Eflin allowed a career-high four home runs and the Phillies were outslugged by the Cincinnati Reds in an 8-4 defeat Sunday at Citizens Bank Park.

The Phils have now lost nine consecutive series for the first time since 1997. The loss was their 22nd in 28 games. The Reds, who took two of three, picked up their first series win at CBP since August 2006.

Eflin was roughed up for the third consecutive start. The Reds tagged him for seven runs in just five innings. After three hits led to a run in the first inning, he gave up home runs in each of his last four frames. Following the game, Eflin was optioned to Triple A Lehigh Valley.

Jeanmar Gomez allowed a solo home run in relief. 

Andrew Knapp gave the Phillies an early lead with a three-run homer during a four-run second inning. However, three double plays stifled the Phillies' offense, which was held scoreless after the second inning. 

Scott Feldman improved to 4-4 with the win for the Reds. The Phils dropped to 17-31 while the Reds improved to 24-25. 

Starting pitching report
Eflin stumbled through five innings, allowing nine hits. He had held opponents to just four homers in first six starts but has now has let up seven in his last two appearances. Over his past three starts, Eflin's been tagged for 22 runs in 15 innings. He's given up at least nine hits in all five May starts. 

A poor sign for Eflin: Only two of his outs came on the ground. The Reds were all over his fastball and scored in each of his five innings. His ERA has gone from 2.81 to 6.13 since May 17.

Feldman labored through a 32-pitch second inning in which he gave up four runs. He settled down afterward with a pair of double plays to get through five innings. The veteran righty struck out the last two batters he faced with a man on third and one out.

Bullpen report
Luis Garcia threw two shutout innings, striking out one. Jeanmar Gomez gave up rookie Patrick Kivlehan's second home run of the day in the ninth inning, snapping the Phillies' bullpen's scoreless streak at 23 2/3 innings. Gomez allowed three hits and the one run in two innings.

Blake Wood, Wandy Peralta, Drew Storen and Raisel Iglesias each threw shutout innings in relief of Feldman.

At the plate
Manager Pete Mackanin wanted the Phillies to string together 4-5 hits and they did so in the second inning. Tommy Joseph and Michael Saunders led off with back-to-back singles before Knapp drove them in with his 434-foot blast. Knapp laid off two high fastballs after falling behind 0-2 and drilled a curveball into the Phillies' bullpen.

Freddy Galvis followed with a double. Even Eflin aided the cause with his first career RBI on a run-scoring single. 

The top two in the order — Cesar Hernandez and Odubel Herrera — went 0 for 8. Everyone else in the lineup had at least one hit. Saunders and Aaron Altherr each had two hits while Ty Kelly had a pinch-hit double.

Adam Duvall, Scott Schebler and Kivlehan combined for five home runs with Duvall and Kivlehan notching multi-hit games. Jose Peraza and Zack Cozart extended their hitting streaks to 13 and 11 games, respectively, in the first inning.

Up next
The Phillies head on the road and begin a three-game set with the Miami Marlins, whom they beat twice in April at Citizens Bank Park.

Monday, 7:10 p.m. — Jeremy Hellickson (5-2, 4.28) vs. Edinson Volquez (0-7, 4.82)

Tuesday, 7:10 p.m.— Vince Velasquez (2-4, 5.55) vs. Justin Nicolino (0-1, 5.40)

Wednesday, 1:10 p.m. — Aaron Nola (2-2, 4.34) vs. Dan Straily (3.83)