Veteran reliever is under the microscope in Phillies camp


Phillies manager Joe Girardi has often said that the first couple of weeks of the Grapefruit League season are a time for players to get ready to compete. Those battling for jobs, according to Girardi, don’t go under the microscope until about the halfway point of the exhibition season.

Under those parameters, the competition is very much on in Phillies camp. There are 13 more games to play in Florida and the season opener is just 17 days away.

Center field and the bullpen remain the two big areas of competition. Odubel Herrera, Scott Kingery and Roman Quinn are vying for the center field job and Herrera might have the inside track, if performance is the only thing that matters.

The bullpen has some slam dunks. Archie Bradley, signed to a one-year, $6 million free-agent deal in the offseason, will be there. He might even be the closer. Hector Neris’ spot is secure. Lefty Jose Alvarado, who has had a tremendous camp, hitting 100 mph on the radar gun, is a no-brainer. Connor Brogdon, if healthy, stands a good shot to be there based on his upside and his work last year. David Hale, Sam Coonrod and JoJo Romero have all pitched well in camp. Vince Velasquez and Spencer Howard could both be in the picture once the starting rotation is finalized. Tony Watson and Brandon Kintzler, two veterans with excellent big-league track records, appear to be on their way to winning spots after signing minor-league contracts. Watson, a lefty, and Kintzler, a righty, have combined for eight scoreless innings with 10 strikeouts so far this spring.

Hector Rondon is another well-credentialed veteran in camp on a minor-league deal, trying to win a job in the bullpen.

His bid to make the club is not going nearly as well as Watson and Kintzler.

Rondon, who pitched very well and racked up 59 saves for the Chicago Cubs in 2014 and 2015, gave up a hit, two walks and three runs in just two-thirds of an inning in Monday’s 4-2 loss to the New York Yankees in Tampa.

For the spring, the 33-year-old right-hander has given up six hits and six earned runs in 4⅔ innings. He has walked two and struck out five.

Given the scarcity of bullpen openings, and how well some of the candidates have pitched, Rondon needs to improve his performance — and quickly — or he could be on the outside looking in.

“I think it’s tougher on the guys that have to make a team,” Girardi said. “It always is. That’s the nature of spring training when you’re fighting for a spot and your performance does matter maybe earlier than Archie Bradley’s does or Hector Neris’ does.

“For Hector (Rondon), these are important innings.”

Rondon’s fastball velocity has not been what the Phillies expected, Girardi said. That’s not necessarily alarming because sometimes veteran relievers need time to build velocity. Bradley’s best fastball, in fact, has been slow coming. He was 92-93 mph and allowed two hits and a run Monday. 

“I think it’s way too early to say I’m concerned,” Girardi said of Bradley’s velocity. “Some guys don’t get it till the middle of the first month. They’re just a little bit slower. 

“I think older guys sometimes channel back a little in spring training then they ramp-up near the end. But it’s still always going to come down to location for a pitcher.”

As a non-roster player, Rondon doesn’t have the luxury of the slow ramp-up that Bradley does. 

It’s evaluation time by Girardi’s definition. Rondon is under the microscope.

“I don’t think his arm strength has been there either,” Girardi said of Rondon. “We expect him to be 96-97 and he hasn’t been there, and I think that affects him. 

“So, we’ll continue to watch him and hopefully it gets there, and we can get him throwing the ball better than he has.”

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

Contact Us