Aaron Nola's illness gives Phillies prospect Ramon Rosso a chance to rev his engine


CLEARWATER, Fla. — Managers generally know who their opening day starter will be well before spring training opens.

But they usually hold off on officially announcing their intention until later in camp just to make sure everything is running smoothly.

This is why.

For weeks, it has been assumed that Aaron Nola will make his third straight opening day start when the Phillies play the Marlins in Miami on March 26. That still might happen. But the possibility that someone else could make that start became a relevant topic Monday when Nola was scratched from his scheduled start against the New York Yankees because of the flu.

Nola showed up at the ballpark in the morning and was sent home.

Opening day is two weeks from Thursday and there is still plenty of time for Nola to be ready to make that start.

But manager Joe Girardi has made no public pronouncements so he can juggle his rotation if need be.

Nola's absence Monday created an opportunity for Ramon Rosso. The 23-year-old right-hander didn't "Wally Pipp" Nola, but that doesn't mean he didn't make a nice showing in his unexpected audition. He pitched two innings and gave up a hit and a run. He walked none and struck out a batter. He threw 27 pitches, including just nine in the first inning.

Looking for someone to emerge as a potential contributor in the bullpen, Phillies officials invited a slew of power-armed minor-league pitchers to big-league camp this spring. Some of them have already been sent to minor-league camp, but some, like Rosso, remain. 

Rosso made 24 starts between Double A and Triple A last season and pitched to a 4.46 ERA. He figures to open the season in the Triple A rotation and could help in the majors as a starter or a reliever later in the year if a need arises and he's pitching well. Rosso's fastball has jumped from 93-94 mph last season to 96-97 mph this spring. He credits his offseason work at Driveline Baseball in Seattle for the jump. 

So far this spring, the 6-4, 225-pound Rosso has pitched 5⅔ innings and allowed four hits, two runs and a walk. He has five strikeouts.

Had circumstances been different, Rosso could have been working on cars in Barcelona, Spain instead of filling in for Nola on Monday. Rosso was originally signed by the Dodgers for $62,000 in the summer of 2015. He spent a year at the Dodgers' academy in the Dominican Republic but was eventually released because, as he said Monday, "I hadn't improved and they lost hope in me."

Rosso was living with his mother in his native Dominican Republic at the time of his release. He was considering a move to Spain, where his father lives, and taking a job as an auto mechanic when he began working out for Phillies scouts. They saw enough to give Rosso a shot and he's spent the last three seasons working his way up the organizational ladder to the point where he was Aaron Nola's understudy Monday.

And to think, he could have been changing oil.

"It blows my mind," Rosso said of his journey. "But at the end of the day, I know that all this is the result of my hard work. I've never forgotten how hard I've worked for this."

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