When the Philadelphia Phillies spring training camp opened this year in Clearwater, most observers felt there were only four available jobs to be won. As usual, however, far more than four were competing for those jobs — two bench seats, a bullpen slot, and the number five starter’s role.
So, those who might take those jobs, or perhaps an injured player’s slot, have to be broken into two parts, the pitchers’ jobs to be won, and the so-called bench players’ slots.
As all Phillies fans now know, Andrew Painter will not be throwing at all for about three more weeks, minimally, and he is basically out of contention for the number 5 starter’s job. He has a sprained UCL that all local Philly fans hope doesn’t turn into a need for Tommy John surgery before 2024.
The Phillies competition for a handful of jobs is in limbo for pitchers, and intense for others.
Painter’s principal competition for the last starter’s slot was Bailey Falter. However, Falter has faltered, posting a 5.68 ERA and 2.37 WHIP in 6.1 innings (three losses) before play on Tuesday, when he was not scheduled to start. Perhaps the left-hander is merely working on pitches and will round into at least his form from last season (3.68 ERA, 1.21 WHIP).
Pitchers start so slowly in formal training camp it is difficult to know what’s going on without hearing, say, Falter’s discussions with pitching coach Caleb Cotham. But batters he has faced thus far are hitting .419.
Falter’s principal competition for the fifth starter’s designation at this point may be Cristopher Sanchez, who both relieved and opened last season, but he has thrown only two innings himself so far. A dark horse contender may well be Michael Plassmeyer.
The Phillies seem to be giving Plassmeyer an extended close examination, considering that the 26-year-old has thrown only 7.1 innings for the team after being traded three times since being drafted by the Rays in the fourth-round in ’18. However, he has kept opponents from touching home plate thus far in four appearances (three starts) in camp. In seven innings, he has weirdly posted a 1.71 WHIP to go with his 0.00 ERA.
Perhaps one of these three candidates will do something spectacular in the remaining games of the 31 the Phillies will have played in Florida this spring, but don’t be surprised if Philadelphia’s fifth starter is actually a mix-and-match matter to start the season.
As far as the bullpen slot that appears to be available, Todd Zolecki’s front-runner pick is probably the best: Yunior Marte. The 28-year-old posted forgettable stats for the Giants in ’22, but has opened eyes in camp this spring with a sinking fastball in the 98-99 mph range and a slider that looks for all the world to left-handed hitters like a low pitch to be clobbered … until it falls off the table.