Demotions to the bullpen illustrate failures of Phillies starting pitchers


The Phillies demoted Zach Eflin to the bullpen on Tuesday. The move offered a sobering reminder of just how disappointing the team’s starting pitching has been this season.

Eflin is the fourth significant Phillies starter moved to the bullpen this season because he could not hang on to a spot in the rotation.

First came Vince Velasquez. (Though he technically landed in the bullpen after an injury, he did not pitch well enough in the rotation before that to keep his job when he got healthy.) Then came Jerad Eickhoff. Then came Nick Pivetta. And now Eflin. Velasquez eventually got his job in the rotation back out of necessity, but you get the picture. With the exception of Aaron Nola, things have not gone well for the Phillies in the rotation this season. The club was out-bid for free agents Patrick Corbin and J.A. Happ by Washington and the Yankees, respectively, in the offseason and did not make a play for Dallas Keuchel in June. It needed at least two of the foursome of Eflin, Velasquez, Pivetta and Eickhoff to seriously emerge this season. None has and now the Phils have a Texas castoff, Drew Smyly, and Mets salary dump, Jason Vargas, in the rotation.

Smyly started against the San Francisco Giants on Tuesday night.

Vargas will start against the Chicago White Sox on Friday night. He takes the spot of Eflin, who pitched to a 10.46 ERA and gave up 47 hits in 26 2/3 innings over his last six starts.

Eflin learned of his demotion on Tuesday.

He said he was surprised by it.

But he manned-up.

“If I don't like it,” he said, “I should pitch better. I hadn't really been doing my job.”

Eflin could see work out of the bullpen on Wednesday night or Thursday. Velasquez and Jake Arrieta are scheduled to make those two starts and neither has had success getting through the middle innings recently. Velasquez actually has long been allergic to the middle innings. Arrieta is pitching with a bone spur in his elbow and getting through five innings has been a chore for him recently.

The Phillies will need to make a roster move to get Vargas on the roster Friday. It’s not out of the question the Eflin gets sent to Triple A.

Phillies management was working on making more moves before Wednesday’s 4 p.m. trade deadline, but a headline-grabbing deal was not expected. With the Phils six games back in the NL East and a game back in a crowded NL wild-card chase, the front office is reluctant to part with top minor-league talent to improve a team that has several holes.

This mindset has been seen in the team’s recent additions, all of which have been underwhelming. Vargas, 36, is a soft-tossing, fifth-starter type. Smyly was let go by Texas in June and was pitching for Milwaukee’s Triple A club before opting out of his contract and joining the Phillies. Other recent pickups include relievers Mike Morin and Blake Parker. Morin was purchased from the Minnesota Twins; Parker was signed after being designated for assignment by the Twins. Before that, the Phils signed reliever Fernando Salas out of the Mexican League. He has been up with the big-league club twice (briefly) and sent back to Triple A twice.
Clearly, the Phils are trying to piece together a pitching staff with two months to go in the regular season.

Jason Vargas will look to give the starting rotation a much-needed boost Friday night.

Nola. Arrieta. Velasquez. Smyly. Vargas.

Is this a playoff rotation?

“It’s a rotation that we are confident will give us a chance,” manager Gabe Kapler said.

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