ST. LOUIS — The Phillies haven't officially made a change to their starting rotation but are likely to make a decision this weekend and it sounds like Michael Lorenzen will be headed to the bullpen.
The team has been using a six-man rotation of Zack Wheeler, Aaron Nola, Ranger Suarez, Taijuan Walker, Lorenzen and Cristopher Sanchez. Manager Rob Thomson has indicated for the last week that the preference is to veer away from the six-man rotation as the playoffs approach and said that the Phils would use Thursday's off-day to chart the path ahead.
"Not yet. I think we'll figure it out by tomorrow," Thomson said Friday afternoon from the visiting dugout at Busch Stadium as the Phillies prepared for a series opener against the Cardinals.
"We're just talking through the whole thing, what's the best thing to do. It's a pretty big decision."
Lorenzen is up to 148⅔ innings, 35 past his prior career-high. He's made five starts since no-hitting the Nationals in Philly on August 9 and allowed 26 runs in 26 innings. His opponents have hit .333 with a .997 OPS. He has seemed particularly frustrated after three of his last four outings.
The Phillies targeted Lorenzen at the trade deadline because they saw him as someone who could help eat innings in the rotation and also relieve down the stretch because of his experience as a setup man. In 223 appearances with the Reds from 2016-19, he had a 3.39 ERA.
"I remember seeing him coming out of the 'pen and he was pretty good, big velocity," Thomson said. "He got us out every time he faced us, he was impressive."
Lorenzen's fastball averaged 97 mph in 2021, the last season he was a full-time reliever. As a starter this year, it's been 94.5. He's been able to maintain that velocity into September, so that's not the cause of the recent dip in performance.
"He hasn't thrown as many strikes as he did before the no-hitter, but the stuff is good," Thomson said. "Get him back to throwing strikes and he'll get people out."
Thomson said Lorenzen could be used as a "Swiss army knife in a bunch of different situations," perhaps similarly to how the Phillies used Zach Eflin in September and October 2023.
Again, nothing is official yet. But reading between the lines, it sure sounds like Sanchez' rotation spot is safe. The 26-year-old lefty has had a breakout summer and struck out a career-high 10 Braves over 7⅓ innings Wednesday night, keeping the majors' best offense mostly off balance with his changeup.
Sanchez' opponents are 18-for-112 this season against the changeup, hitting .161. That's the fourth-lowest opponents' batting average in the majors among pitchers who have thrown at least 300 changeups this season, behind only Shane McClanahan, Cole Ragans and Trevor Richards.
"I would call it a power changeup," Thomson said. "There's depth on it, there's great arm speed, you can't pick it up, and he can use it left-on-left or left-on-right.
"Sanchez, after last outing, that was the best outing we've had in a while from our starters. I don't know how long we can ride that wave or not because he's way above where his (innings) max has been in his career."
Sanchez is up to 137 innings on the year between Triple A and the majors. He previously topped out at 97⅓. He has a 3.40 ERA and sterling 1.05 WHIP in 16 starts.
The Phillies have 15 games left after Friday. They will start Nola, Suarez and Walker this weekend in St. Louis. Wheeler is scheduled to pitch Monday's series opener in Atlanta. Their starters beyond then are TBD, but if the Phils do shift Lorenzen to the bullpen, Sanchez could start Tuesday with Nola going the next day on normal rest.