Girardi: Top prospect Spencer Howard will compete for spot in Phillies' rotation


The Phillies made some late fortifications to their starting pitching rotation when they signed Matt Moore, Chase Anderson and Ivan Nova in recent weeks. Moore and Anderson are on major-league contracts, which suggests that team officials believe they will be part of a season-opening staff that already includes Aaron Nola, Zack Wheeler and Zach Eflin in the top three spots.

So, what does that mean for Spencer Howard, the team's major league-ready top pitching prospect?

"He will compete for a spot in the rotation," manager Joe Girardi said after his team's first workout of the spring Wednesday.

Howard, 24, made an underwhelming debut in the majors during the pandemic-shortened, 60-game season last year. In six starts, he pitched 24⅓ innings, allowed 30 hits, including six home runs, and 16 earned runs for an ERA of 5.92. He struck out 23, walked 10, had trouble holding the fastball velocity that was his calling card in the minors and spent some time on the injured list for the second year in a row with shoulder tightness.

Howard is healthy now.

"He's in competition so we need to try and get him ready to see where he's at," Girardi said.

Howard has reached 100 innings only once in his pro career so the Phillies will continue to be cautious in building his workload. Similarly, they will be cautious with the rest of their starters as they progress from an unusual two-month season to a regular six-month season this year. This could lead to the use of an occasional sixth man in the starting staff this season. President of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski suggested as much recently.

Mixing in Howard as an occasional sixth man would protect both him and the rest of the rotation in terms of workload.

That's just one potential scenario. Nova is not in camp simply as a hood ornament, and Vince Velasquez is making $4 million. Velasquez will get a look in camp as a starter but could end up in the bullpen or traded. The point is, Howard is not guaranteed a spot in the season-opening rotation or even on the season-opening roster. He could be sent to the minors, get some work in, and be on call when needed. Teams can never have enough starting pitching.

This will all play out over the next six weeks in Clearwater.

But for now, Howard is a go and he can chart some of his own course by how he pitches.

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