Phillies' starting rotation battle appears to be over


As the April 1 season opener approaches, we'll look at a big picture Phillies topic each day. The series began Monday with their defense and continues today with the back of the rotation.

Sometimes people who lead baseball teams have to say the right thing even though they know it might not be, well, right.

When Phillies camp opened last month, the team's powers that be all said there would be a competition between Matt Moore, Chase Anderson, Vince Velasquez, Spencer Howard and Ivan Nova for the fourth and fifth spots in the starting rotation. 

Deep down inside, however, everyone knew that Moore and Anderson had a clear path to the jobs. They were veterans with some track record. Both passed on other opportunities to sign guaranteed big-league contracts with the Phillies this winter. As long as their arms stayed attached to their shoulders, there was a strong likelihood that they were going to "win" the final two spots in the rotation.

But neither pitcher was about to take anything for granted. Just for the sake of certainty, both pitchers came into camp with a competitor's mentality, and with 2½ weeks to go before opening day, it can be safely said that, barring something unforeseen, they will be the fourth and fifth starters.

It's still unclear where Velasquez fits, maybe in the bullpen, maybe in a trade. Howard needs to contribute in some role either in the rotation — possibly as an occasional sixth man — or out of the bullpen in 2021. Nova, on a minor-league deal, may or may not stay in the organization as depth.

Moore, a 31-year-old lefty, has solidified his place in the rotation by so far pitching eight innings of one-run ball. He's given up three hits, a walk and has registered five strikeouts.

Anderson, a 33-year-old right-hander, has so far pitched seven scoreless innings, three of them against a rugged New York Yankees lineup in Tampa on Monday. Overall, Anderson has given up three hits, four walks and has struck out eight in his seven innings of work.

Manager Joe Girardi likes what he's seen of Anderson and Moore, even though he's not ready to announce his rotation, which is understandable with still a couple of weeks to go in camp.

"I think those two guys have pitched extremely well," Girardi said. "I feel pretty good where they're at.

"As we've gone through this competition, those two guys have thrown the ball well. The other guys are still competing, but these guys have thrown the ball good."

The Phillies spent just a total of $7 million to get Moore and Anderson. That could turn out to be a bargain if the Phils get some quality innings from those two spots. Aaron Nola, Zack Wheeler and Zack Eflin will fill the first three spots in the rotation.

Moore suffered a knee injury with Detroit in 2019 and pitched in Japan last season. The Phillies are his fifth big-league team. Anderson has previously pitched with Arizona, Milwaukee and Toronto. He actually considered pitching in Japan while a free agent this winter. 

When you've bounced around as much as Anderson has, you take nothing for granted. Though he came into camp with a guaranteed contract, he has taken the mound each outing with the urgency of a guy on a minor-league contract trying to open some eyes.

"I came in thinking I've got to win this spot," Anderson said. "I think what brings out the best in most guys, especially for myself, is competition. The best year of my career was 2017 with Milwaukee. I came into spring training having to earn a spot and pitched well in spring training and then transitioned into the season and had a really good year.

"So, I think for me to have that feeling of having to fight for a spot then having success, keeping my feet on ground and staying humble, that will bode well for me and the team because if guys are putting up zeroes and doing their jobs in this rotation, we're going to be really good."

In just a few weeks of camp, Anderson and Moore have struck up a connection. They've shared ideas on the curveball and their wives have become friends.

"We sometimes don't get the praise of the 1-2-3 guys, but that's OK," Anderson said. "I grew up in a small town (in Texas) with a blue-collar mentality so I think staying in that lane, especially for me, is definitely good."

Subscribe to the Phillies Talk podcastApple Podcasts | Google Play | Spotify | Stitcher | Art19 | Watch on YouTube

Contact Us