Philadelphia Phillies: Four Opening Day matters to watch

PHILADELPHIA, PA - AUGUST 26: Scott Kingery #4 of the Philadelphia Phillies looks on against the Pittsburgh Pirates at Citizens Bank Park on August 26, 2019 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images)
PHILADELPHIA, PA - AUGUST 26: Scott Kingery #4 of the Philadelphia Phillies looks on against the Pittsburgh Pirates at Citizens Bank Park on August 26, 2019 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images) /

With Opening Day approximately a week away, the Philadelphia Phillies have a few matters of concern to address.

With their fingers crossed and roughly a week to go until the Philadelphia Phillies Opening Day, the team’s fans basically have four updated storylines to consider. That is, beyond the nail-biting matter of what kind of sound to pipe into Citizens Bank Park.

(Personally, I want to see some SpongeBobs and Raggedy Anns in the seats behind home plate. Forget the sound. Let’s hear the players.)

In any event, the matters for Phillies fans to consider are as follows, once again with fingers crossed that Bryce Harper, J.T. Realmuto, and Aaron Nola actually start the season July 24:

More Phillies. Blue Jays key to season. light

Who makes the 30-man roster, which will soon be cut down to 28, then cut down again?

On July 15, Matt Gelb of The Athletic projected two catchers, seven infielders, five outfielders, five in the rotation, and 11 bullpen arms, most of whom are “known quantities” to Phillies fans with the exception of the six non-roster players he sees making the team: Neil Walker, Josh Harrison, Logan Forsythe, Francisco Liriano, Anthony Swarzak, and Trevor Kelley.

The infielders here, the first three listed, are fairly well known to very observant MLB fans; the relief pitchers are bigger question marks. They’re led by Liriano in the twilight of a career that has been occasionally brilliant. He has moved from a starter’s role to a reliever’s, and has been effective in both jobs. He’s 36.

Swarzak, now 34, has been a career reliever, largely in the AL, but has posted seasons with ERAs below 3.00 – in 2013 and ’17. We’ll defer to Gelb here that he has somehow shown something in the weird training that’s occurred in the run-up to this season.

The same remark applies to Kelley, who is far younger (26), but a giant question mark, having cobbled together a 1.680 WHIP in 10 games last season for the Red Sox as a spot-reliever (his total innings came to 8.1). His triple-A numbers in ’19 at Pawtucket were considerably better.

What about Scott Kingery’s and Andrew McCutchen’s health?

Here’s where we get to try out a novel phrase for the novel viral pandemic. The Phillies second baseman this year, Scott Kingery, is an MLB COVID-19 survivor. Expect to see that formulation moving forward. Let’s hope we don’t see the opposite phrase.

Back before the US sort of shut down, observers were regularly commenting on Kingery’s new muscle mass this season. Then he got sick with the pandemic virus – very sick – to the point of losing his senses of taste and smell.

He downplayed it, but he was frightened. And he appears in recent photos to have lost a bit of that new muscle. But, as the saying goes, he’s feeling much better. The Phillies believe in Kingery, and he rewarded their faith last year with a solidly improved sophomore year.

Andrew McCutchen, of course, is recovering from a knee repair that occurred last season far too early for the Phillies to recover from as a team. That reality wasn’t entirely clear for a lot of the campaign, but it has become increasingly true in retrospect. McCutchen is important at the top of the lineup. Period. Full stop.

He looks healthy now – there have been videos on social media of him dancing around on the practice field – and if anything, he too appears a bit stronger as he moves into his mid-30s. According to Gelb, manager Joe Girardi intends to have his left fielder DH at least once a week. (He might consider twice every other week.)

McCutchen is also an important clubhouse presence. Additionally, he peps up the Phillies fan base with his social media, alter-ego character, Uncle Larry, an amusing, irascible “relative.”

Yes, there are t-shirts.

Is Vince Velasquez’ new cutter all that and a bag of chips?

The competition for the number five starter’s slot on the Phillies appears to be over with a week to go. As noted earlier here, Phillies pitchers this season, under a new pitching philosophy, will become more various in their game plans, and Vince Velasquez seems to have bought into this notion effectively.

He has developed a cutter that has talk-radio commentators gushing. Never mind the most recent I’ve heard is a retired football player – Jon Ritchie is a bright guy, a Stanford grad. (He did go on a bit July 15 for the benefit of those who don’t know what a proper cutter does, but that’s all good.)

One of Velasquez’ supposed competitors, Ranger Suarez, apparently was exposed to COVID-19, and hasn’t quite made it to “summer training.” The slight possibility that Nick Pivetta pitches no-hit innings for the last week of training does exist, but it may not matter.

Perhaps with a new approach, Velasquez will finally fulfill the promise of his 16-strikeout performance back in his second game for the Phillies in ’16.

All things considered, the Phillies could have a worse starting rotation in this uncertain atmosphere. Their five starters seem to be ready.

What about the general matter of pandemic pitching and the expected churn through the guys who throw the ball?

No one really knows what’s coming at the end of next week when actual play begins. How many pitchers will really be needed, considering the patchwork matter of this preseason’s training? Will some pitchers – a few, a lot – break down more quickly than in “regular” years?

Will the Phillies’ expected bullpen of 11 relievers be enough? Do their fans actually want to see Tommy Hunter join it, or not? Will they ever see Victor Arano, who has seemed impressive, but who is “behind” in training?

Next. Listen to Harper and pay Realmuto. dark

And how about the players due to make their debuts this year, one of whom, Spencer Howard, is expected to be an impact starter?

All these and more questions will begin to hint at answers in about seven days.