Intrigue surrounds Phillies' pitching rotation as opener approaches

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For Zack Wheeler, this one didn't count.

The next one will.

The Phillies' big offseason pitching acquisition made his final tune-up start before the regular season in an exhibition game against the Baltimore Orioles on Sunday night.

The Phillies lost the game, 5-1. 

No biggie. It was just practice.

Wheeler was not particularly sharp in 4⅓ innings of work. He allowed four hits, including a homer, and two runs. He walked one, hit a batter and threw a wild pitch on his way to 86 pitches.

"We were looking for five ups and downs and 85 pitches was our goal," manager Joe Girardi said. "His arm strength was good. His breaking ball was not as sharp as it had been. But he battled through it and kept us in the game.

"Sharpness was my concern with these guys because they'll have so few outings. But we're not worried. Zack was excellent in his last start."

Wheeler is scheduled to make his official Phillies debut in Game 2 of the regular season Saturday night against the Marlins. That, however, could change because he and his wife are expecting their first child in the coming days.

Assuming Wheeler starts Game 2 of the season, he will follow Aaron Nola, who lines up to start the opener Friday night.

How the Phillies line their pitching up after that is a question that gained some intrigue Sunday night.

It had been assumed that Jake Arrieta would start the third game of the regular season. 

But late Sunday night, Girardi announced that Vince Velasquez would start Monday night's exhibition game in New York at Yankee Stadium. That would put Velasquez in line to pitch Game 3 of the regular season. 

Arrieta will be pushed back to an intrasquad game Wednesday in Philadelphia. That would put Arrieta in line to pitch Game 4 of the regular season in New York against the Yankees.

Girardi was vague in his reasoning for the pitching alignment, saying he didn't want Velasquez to go too long between outings.

With no personal access to players because of COVID-19 protocols, it was impossible to speak with Velasquez or Arrieta to attempt to gain more clarity.

The bottom line is it appears that Velasquez will be in the rotation.

Zach Eflin's availability the first time through the rotation remains up in the air. He was slowed by a bad back and will test himself in a simulated game Thursday. If he can't make his first start, Nick Pivetta could slide in. We think. But this all could change if Baby Wheeler arrives. Maybe it's best we all just sit back and let this thing play out. Nah. That's no fun.

Some items of interest Sunday:

• Roman Quinn, hit by a pitch on the wrist Saturday, is fine. He will play in New York on Monday.

• Girardi's lineup featured Bryce Harper in the No. 2 spot in the batting order. Harper had batted third the night before in Washington. J.T. Realmuto did not play in that game. He did play against the Orioles on Sunday and followed Harper in the lineup with designated hitter Jay Bruce batting fourth. Rhys Hoskins hit fifth, Didi Gregorius sixth, Jean Segura seventh, Scott Kingery eighth and Adam Haseley ninth. Andrew McCutchen led off.

That's not a bad looking lineup.

Girardi said he will keep experimenting.

• Bruce, Harper and McCutchen will not make the trip to New York on Monday night. Other than that, the Phils are taking a crew of regulars, including Realmuto.

• Prospect Alec Bohm, a natural third baseman who remains an interesting down-the-road possibility at first base, got some time at the position late in the game and made a nice scoop on a ball in the dirt.

• Girardi managed the Yankees from 2008 to 2017. Monday night will mark the first time he has been back at Yankee Stadium in any role since his time managing the club.

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