Seven weeks from the trade deadline, the Phillies’ most pressing roster need is also a familiar one.
Calling all relief pitchers.
In three of the last four seasons, the Phillies dealt with at least one reliever at the deadline. Last year, they got Ian Kennedy; in 2020, they picked up Brandon Workman, Heath Hembree, David Hale, and David Phelps; in 2018, it was lefty Aaron Loup.
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This year’s trade trade market is still a few weeks from crystalizing, so the Phillies will keep mining their internal options – get ready for a few weeks of “As the Bullpen Churns” – before president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski goes shopping.
First up: Michael Kelly.
Could Francisco Morales, Ryan Sherriff, or even Mark Appel be far behind?
The Phillies designated struggling James Norwood for assignment, called up Kelly from triple A, and added him to the 40-man roster before Monday night’s game against the Miami Marlins. A former first-round pick of the San Diego Padres, Kelly had a 5.00 ERA in 19 appearances but was cited by interim manager Rob Thomson for his strikeout rate. He whiffed 33.75% of batters (27 of 80) at Lehigh Valley.
“He’s got a big fastball – mid- to upper-90s fastball – curveball, slider’s really good,” Thomson said. “A lot of strikeouts. There’s some walks in there, but we think there’s a couple things we can do here to help him get rid of some of those walks. ”
Sounds a little like Norwood, a hard thrower who racked up 22 strikeouts in 17⅓ innings for the Phillies but also walked nine batters and posted an 8.31 ERA. The Phillies have seven days to trade Norwood or place him on waivers. If he clears, he can accept an outright assignment to triple A.
Kelly will receive what amounts to a one-week trial. The Phillies are carrying 14 pitchers and must comply with Major League Baseball’s deadline to cut down to 13 by June 20.
Thomson said “there were a lot of guys in the conversation” to take Norwood’s spot. The Phillies remain hopeful that Morales will play a role in the bullpen, but the hulking 22-year-old right-hander has given up 12 walks in 8⅓ innings and posted a 6.48 ERA in eight triple-A appearances after dominating at double-A Reading.
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Sherriff, who did not allow a run in 10 appearances for the Tampa Bay Rays in 2020, began a minor-league rehab assignment last week from a spring-training shoulder strain and will move from low-A Clearwater to Reading this week. But Thomson said “he’s going to need time” before he’s ready to join the Phillies. He also has options and can eventually be sent to triple A.
Appel, a former No. 1 overall pick of the Houston Astros in 2013, has a 1.93 ERA in 15 appearances in triple A. Could he figure into the mix?
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“Hey, you never know,” Thomson said. “I think there’s a lot of guys down there that are in play.”
And then there’s always the trade deadline. It’s fair to say at least five teams in the National League (Reds, Nationals, Cubs, Pirates, Rockies) and four in the American League (Athletics, Royals, Tigers, Orioles) are already in sell mode. Others will surely join them, but with the addition of one extra playoff team in each league, it may prove to be a sellers’ market.
The Phillies are well acquainted with several of the relievers who figure to be available, from Kennedy (Diamondbacks) to Rangers lefty Matt Moore, and the Cubs’ David Robertson. Is a reunion possible with all of them? Maybe Robertson, who has a 1.59 ERA with seven saves in nine chances and was signed by former Phillies general manager Matt Klentak.
First, though, the Phillies will look inside and see if they can find any help.
Nick Castellanos started 36 games in a row, all in the right field, and by his admission, hasn’t felt comfortable at the plate. So, Thomson figured it was a good day for a rest.
“He hasn’t said that exactly to me, but I mean, I can feel it, you know?” Thomson said. “Because he’s a really good hitter. He didn’t ask for a day. I gave it to him. ”
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Even with seven hits in the last week, Castellanos is batting .202 (19-for-94) with two homers and a .574 on-base plus slugging percentage in his last 24 games.
Third baseman Alec Bohm also got a breather after starting 50 consecutive games.
Odúbel Herrera started in Castellanos’ place. Matt Vierling made his first major-league start at third base, two days after playing second base for the first time ever.
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Closer Corey Knebel played catch off flat ground again Monday after feeling shoulder tightness while warming up before the ninth inning Saturday. The Phillies believe Knebel will avoid the injured list. … The Phillies reinstated catcher Rafael Marchán from the 60-day injured list and and optioned him to triple A. … Left-hander Bailey Falter likely will get called up to start half of Friday’s doubleheader in Washington. Falter has given up a total of four runs in 13 innings over his last two triple-A starts. … Rhys Hoskins and his wife, Jayme, hosted a charity event Sunday night at Yards Brewing Company and raised $ 113,495 for the Muscular Dystrophy Association. … Zach Eflin (2-4, 3.76 ERA), seeking to bounce back from a rough start last week in Milwaukee, is scheduled to pitch Tuesday night against Marlins lefty Trevor Rogers (3-5, 5.58).