- Ryan Lawrence of PhillyVoice.com argues that it’s time for the Phillies to bring Roman Quinn back to the Majors and see if he can produce in a semi-regular role. Other well-regarded prospects in the organization are currently blocked by younger players (e.g. second baseman Scott Kingery and first baseman Rhys Hoskins), but Lawrence opines that reducing the playing time of Michael Saunders and even giving the struggling Odubel Herrera a day off each week would allow the Phils to get Quinn into the lineup a four times per week or so in an effort to invigorate an unproductive lineup. The 24-year-old Quinn hasn’t exactly set Triple-A on fire (.245/.346/.375), but he’s heated up quite nicely after a slow start to his season. And with the Phillies having lost 20 of their past 24 games (including five straight and nine of their last 10), the team is clearly in need of a shakeup. The return of Howie Kendrick will only further muddle the outfield mix, however, and the Phils announced last night that he’s embarking on a rehab assignment.
- The Phillies have released southpaw Mario Hollands, per Jim Salisbury of CSNPhilly.com (via Twitter). Once a promising young reliever, Hollands seemingly never fully recovered from Tommy John surgery. The 28-year-old has produced middling results in the upper minors over the past two seasons since sitting out all of 2015. This year, he has allowed a dozen walks in his 13 frames at Double-A.
- Also hitting the open market is former Phillies righty Dalier Hinojosa, per Matt Eddy of Baseball America. The 31-year-old worked to a 1.51 ERA with 7.8 K/9 and 3.5 BB/9 through 35 2/3 MLB frames in 2015-16, but clearly hadn’t convinced teams that was sustainable. Hinojosa hasn’t yet pitched this year due to a shoulder injury.
There’s no more fickle existence in Major League Baseball than that of a relief pitcher. Teams are generally more willing to tinker with their bullpens than their benches, and often need to make changes to account for overworked staffs.
But the tumult also brings opportunity. Relievers who are throwing well at the right moment can find themselves right back in the majors. And there are often wide-open Spring Training battles to be joined and won.
Plenty of relievers signed minor-league deals last winter. And a solid number of them ended up on MLB rosters within the first two months of the season. Despite failing to receive MLB guarantees on the free-agent market, these ten hurlers have provided quite a bit of value in the early going:
Matt Albers, Nationals: With the Nats’ pen struggling badly, Albers has been a desperately need source of reliable frames: 16 2/3 innings of 1.62 ERA ball. A strong 57.8% groundball rate and meager 1.6 BB/9 walk rate tend to support the results, though Albers isn’t getting enough whiffs (7.6 K/9) to keep up quite this level of pitching.
Craig Breslow, Twins: The lefty specialist has been everything the Minnesota front office hoped for when it bought into his new-look delivery over the winter. Like Albers, a minimal BABIP (.217 in this case) helps explain the sub-2.00 ERA, though in both cases the solid early work is enough to entrench these pitchers in their respective pens for the time being.
Jorge De La Rosa, Diamondbacks: A long-time starter, De La Rosa has averaged less than one inning per relief appearance in Arizona. But the results of that change in focus have been quite promising. It’s good enough that De La Rosa carries a 50% groundball rate with 8.8 K/9 and 3.5 BB/9, supporting a 2.35 ERA through 15 1/3 frames. But there could be more in the tank, as he’s also averaging a career-high 94.1 mph with his fastball and generating a huge 19.5% swinging-strike rate.
David Hernandez, Angels: Though he has completed just 11 innings thus far, after making his debut later than most of the names on this list, Hernandez has impressed. He’s showing the same kind of velocity and swinging-strike rates that made him a buy-low option last year for the Phillies, but the real question is whether he can continue to avoid the long balls that have plagued him in recent years.
J.J. Hoover, Diamondbacks: It was anyone’s guess whether the former Reds’ late-inning stalwart would rebound, but he’s showing well through fifteen frames in Arizona. Hoover is walking more than five batters per nine, but has also racked up 12.6 K/9 (on a career-high 12.6% swinging-strike rate) and owns a 3.00 ERA. So far, a new pitch mix (more two-seamers and sliders) seems to be working.
Jason Motte, Braves: After beating out Hernandez to become the next veteran reclamation project in Atlanta, Motte has ascended to the majors and helped stabilize the pen. His peripherals aren’t terribly inspiring — 6.4 K/9, 3.2 BB/9, 53.1% groundball rate — but the results (1.59 ERA) have been there through 11 1/3 innings.
Bud Norris, Angels: The crown jewel of the Halos’ impressive slate of finds, Norris has thrived in the closer’s role that he took over out of necessity. Through 23 2/3 innings, he carries a 2.66 ERA with 11.8 K/9, 3.4 BB/9, and a 44.2% groundball rate. Norris is bringing more velocity (94.1 mph fastball) and swinging strikes (13.2%) than ever before.
Yusmeiro Petit, Angels: The veteran long man has been stellar, delivering 28 1/3 staff-preserving innings of 2.54 ERA ball through 16 appearances. Petit is carrying 9.5 K/9 against 3.2 BB/9 on the year. (As if the trio of arms on this list weren’t enough, the Halos have also benefited from the strong work of Blake Parker, who had been outrighted off the 40-man roster over the winter.)
Anthony Swarzak, White Sox: There are some very strong performers on this list, but perhaps none has been quite as impressive as Swarzak. He has given the South Siders 19 2/3 breakout innings of 1.37 ERA ball, with 10.1 K/9 and just 0.9 BB/9 in that span. At present, he’s working at a 19.8% swinging-strike rate — about double what he carried over the prior two campaigns — making him quite an interesting potential trade candidate this summer.
Jacob Turner, Nationals: Though he isn’t carrying sparkly numbers, Turner has been an important contributor in D.C. He’s functioning in the swingman role that Petit occupied last year, providing 21 2/3 innings (over two starts and six relief appearances) of 3.74 ERA pitching thus far. While Turner is averaging only 5.8 strikeouts and 3.3 walks per nine, he is continuing to carry the velocity boost he showed last year. Interestingly, he is now working in the zone far more than ever before (50.2% versus 42.1% career average) — though it’s also important to note that his swings and misses are way down (4.8%).
- Phillies prospect Jesmuel Valentin may need shoulder surgery that could end his season, Ryan Lawrence of the Philly Voice reports on Twitter. The 23-year-old second baseman, who was taken 51st overall in the 2012 draft, came to the Philadelphia organization as part of the 2014 trade that sent veteran righty Roberto Hernandez to the Dodgers. Valentin, who occupies a 40-man spot, had struggled to a .229/.282/.292 batting line this year but has shown a quality approach in the past and slashed .269/.341/.395 with nine home runs last year in the upper minors.
- Phillies right-hander Vince Velasquez continued a disappointing season with another rough outing Saturday, and he suggested afterward that he wouldn’t resist a move to the bullpen. Asked if he feared losing his rotation spot, the hard-throwing Velasquez said (via Todd Zolecki of MLB.com): “Is it a fear? No, it’s not a fear. If it’s a way to help the team in the bullpen, then so be it. But do I think about that going out there? No.” There’s no indication that Velasquez will lose his starting role, though his struggles have nonetheless been alarming. After a highly promising 2016, his first in Philly, the 24-year-old has pitched to a bloated ERA (5.98) over 43 2/3 innings and seen his strikeout and walk rates trend in the wrong direction. Velasquez attributes his issues to “a lack of commitment, a lack of concentration, just a lack of everything” and believes he’s putting too much pressure on himself.
- The Phillies are willing to listen to trade offers for righty Jeremy Hellickson. That’s hardly a surprise, since Hellickson is a short-term asset pitching for a 13-19 team that’s trying to rebuild, but it was also recently reported that the Phillies could also consider extending Hellickson, who accepted their qualifying offer last winter. Hellickson has posted a 3.49 ERA, 4.0 K/9 and 1.9 BB/9 in 38 2/3 innings thus far in his second season in Philadelphia.
- Speaking of the Phillies, former GM Ruben Amaro Jr. has won praise from current team execs for his series of trades before being dismissed following the 2015 season. Those trades include an impressive haul for Cole Hamels and Jake Diekman that included Jerad Eickhoff, Jake Thompson, Jorge Alfaro, and Nick Williams; the trade of Jonathan Papelbon to the Nationals, which brought back Nick Pivetta, a starter who made his big-league debut this year; the trade of Jimmy Rollins to the Dodgers, which brought back Zach Eflin, who’s pitched well for the Phillies this season; and the deal of Marlon Byrd to the Reds, which returned Ben Lively, who’s emerging as a good depth rotation option. Amaro is currently the Red Sox’ first base coach.
The Phillies have announced an extension of the contract of skipper Pete Mackanin. He’ll receive a two-year deal that covers this year and next, with the club holding an option over one additional season.
Mackanin had agreed to a similarly structured deal in the spring of 2016, which left the Phils committed for two seasons with an option for 2018. Now, the sides have effectively pushed that arrangement out another year, with the option season arising in 2019.
The 65-year-old Mackanin took the helm in Philadelphia as an interim replacement for Ryne Sandberg back in 2015. His performance with a club in transition earned him a longer stint, and he’s now entering his second full season running the dugout.
There hasn’t been much in the way of on-field success since Mackanin was named manager; the club carries a rough 121-161 record. But immediate results are far from the top priority for the rebuilding Phils, who are hoping rather to develop a core of young players who’ll help drive an organizational resurgence in the seasons to come. As ever, there have been some ups and downs in that pursuit, but it seems the organization’s brass remains favorably disposed toward Mackanin’s handling of the clubhouse.
Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.
The Mariners announced that they’ve traded right-hander Casey Fien to the Phillies in exchange for cash. Because Fien wasn’t on the Mariners’ 40-man roster, Philadelphia does not need to make a corresponding 40-man move. Fien will report to Triple-A Lehigh Valley, per an announcement from the Phillies.
Fien, 33, has been designated for assignment and outrighted off the 40-man roster by the Mariners twice this season. He’s struggled immensely through six big league innings this year, surrendering 10 earned runs on nine hits (three homers) and four walks with six strikeouts. That marks a continuation of the difficulties that Fien had with the Dodgers and Twins in 2016, when he posted a 5.49 ERA through 39 1/3 innings. (Notably, Fien did improve considerably upon moving from Minnesota to Los Angeles, recording a 4.21 ERA with 8.1 K/9 against 2.5 BB/9 in 25 2/3 innings.)
Though he’s struggled since the onset of the 2016 season, Fien was a reliable middle relief/setup option for the Twins from 2012-15, logging 223 2/3 innings with a 3.54 ERA, 7.9 K/9 and 1.6 BB/9. Fien’s velocity is down a bit this season, but he’s also registered an impressive 17.8 percent swinging-strike rate and is subsequently sporting a career-best 66.7 percent contact rate. The long ball has plagued Fien since early in 2016, and while a move to the homer-happy Citizens Bank Park (in the event that he is promoted to the Majors at some point) may not help in that regard, it could also do Fien some good to get out of the America League.
- The Nationals are weighing whether to keep right-hander Jacob Turner in their struggling bullpen or use him as their fifth starter, writes Jorge Castillo of the Washington Post. Turner has fired six shutout innings in the bullpen but has also impressed the team in a starting role, Castillo notes. The five-spot in the rotation comes up next on Thursday, and Washington’s other option for that outing in Baltimore is right-hander A.J. Cole. Castillo notes, however, that Cole was hit fairly hard by the Phillies this weekend despite escaping with just one run allowed. Right-hander Joe Ross, who was optioned to Triple-A last week, is slated to pitch for Syracuse tonight, so he’s seemingly not an option.
- Since surrendering back-to-back-to-back homers to blow a save against the Dodgers a bit more than a week ago, Hector Neris has once again ramped up the usage of his splitter, as Matt Gelb of the Philadelphia Inquirer points out. Gelb notes that 30 of the 43 pitches Neris has thrown since that meltdown have been splitters. The Phillies have “implored” Neris to throw his splitter, which is his best pitch, with more and more frequency, Gelb adds. “The more he uses it, the more hitters have to worry about it, and they can’t sit on his fastball,” says manager Pete Mackanin. MLB.com’s Todd Zolecki notes that during Neris’ shakiest stretch this season, he was throwing 40 percent splitters against 60 percent four-seam fastballs. Neris looks to be back on track, and it doesn’t seem as if there’s any real thought in making a ninth-inning change in Philadelphia at this time. (Reminder to fantasy players: you can track all of the latest ninth-inning drama by following MLBTR’s @closernews account on Twitter.)
- Phillies right-hander Aaron Nola also received good MRI news, as GM Matt Klentak told PhillyVoice.com’s Ryan Lawrence and other reporters that nothing seems to be amiss after Nola felt discomfort in his lower back while throwing a side session earlier this week. Nola, who has been on the DL since April 24 with a lower back strain, will throw another bullpen this weekend and is on track to begin a rehab assignment next week if all goes well.