If your favorite team pitched to you the idea that, while they restructured their organization from the field to the front office, their rotation would be comprised of touted young arms and a couple of effective, inning-chewing veterans, that would probably sound okay. Teams aren’t really in the business of explaining their long term plans to each individual fan, however, but you probably picked up on what was going on.
With that in mind, the Phillies grabbed Jeremy Hellickson and Charlie Morton in the winter, assembled a hierarchy of recently acquired young hurling talent, and plunged into 2016. Things went okay for a few weeks. Vince Velasquez had a thunderous debut. Aaron Nola looked steady. Jerad Eickhoff had that sexy curve. For a while, these kids were striking everybody out while following a strict “no free passes” policy. Even Hellickson was looking good, and Morton—well, Morton went down for the season in late April with a hamstring injury.
That’s quite the hiccup, but hey; that’s why pitching depth matters! The Phillies slotted Adam Morgan in there and soldiered on.
But Morgan didn’t really work out, being eventually demoted due to a lack of getting opposing hitters out. And then Aaron Nola, who at one point hadn’t gotten out of the fourth inning four starts in a row, hit the disabled list with an elbow injury. Not long after, Zach Eflin, who had found some momentum with a pair of complete games, followed him to the DL with “jumper’s knee.” Eflin had been brought up to replace Velasquez in early June, when Velasquez had gone down with a bicep strain (though he had since returned to the front lines). At one point, the Phillies had Phil Klein make a start, a seemingly new name that had fans and writers alike Googling for answers.
The Phillies were plugging holes as fast as they could, with prospects like Eflin and Jake Thompson seeing big league daylight due to injuries on the staff, but on Wednesday, the team thought they may have taken yet another hit.
Phillies starter Jeremy Hellickson left today's game with back tightness per #Phillies. Over last week 3 starters have gone down— Jeff Skversky (@JeffSkversky) August 10, 2016
A high pitched whistling sound accompanied the steam shooting out of GM Matt Klentak’s ears. The trade deadline had come and gone with the Phillies making no moves, despite Hellickson and Velasquez receiving well-documented interest from outside parties. Hellickson especially had been a candidate for a trade, given how well he has pitched this year and the fact that he is on an affordable one-year deal. An injury would only embolden the outcry of those who had felt strongly about finding a deal in which to package him.
Thankfully, a few hours after the Phillies beat the Dodgers Wednesday afternoon, the baseball gods granted them a brief reprieve.
Jeremy Hellickson is a little sore, but he thinks he’ll be fine to make his next start. Has benefit of two extra days between outings.— Matt Gelb (@MattGelb) August 10, 2016
In the mean time, the Phillies will look to survive the last two months of the season with a rotation that has considerably thinned out. One of the appeals of the 2016 squad was that they appeared to be making progress; rather than pushing more lukewarm free agents into the mix, the Phillies are experimenting with what is assumed to be their next generation of starters. Should the hits keep coming to the rotation’s health, they may wind up resembling the less exciting staffs of the past few seasons.