CLEARWATER, Fla. — With nine days to go before opening day, the exact composition of the Phillies’ rotation remains an open question. But Monday was another step toward an ideal world as Aaron Nola pitched six strong innings in a minor league game and Ranger Suárez got the green light for a Wednesday bullpen session in preparation for a potential Grapefruit League start.
Suárez, who developed a minor forearm issue while pitching for Venezuela in the World Baseball Classic, threw a bullpen session on Sunday and felt good enough on Monday that the Phillies still think it’s possible he can be ready to contribute some number of innings by the time they need a fourth or fifth starter in early April. If all goes well when he takes the practice mound again on Wednesday, he could end up getting an appearance in a game before the Phillies break camp in a week and a half.
Whatever happens, the Phillies haven’t given any indication that they will have to make do without Suárez for any considerable length of time. That would leave them entering the season with each of their top four projected starters ready to go in some form.
The current favorite for the No. 5 spot is lefty Bailey Falter, who gave them valuable innings down the stretch last season and entered spring training expected to hold some sort of long-innings role. An elbow injury to top prospect and roster hopeful Andrew Painter leaves a clear spot at the back end of the rotation for at least a couple of months and potentially much longer (team president Dave Dombrowski said on Sunday he still expects Painter to be healthy enough to pitch at some point in 2023).
Nola sharp, ready for opening day
The Phillies don’t have anything to worry about when it comes to Nola, who has looked sharp all spring after a season in which he reached the 230-inning mark for the first time in his career (postseason included). He looked to be in regular-season form on Monday when he faced a team of Blue Jays minor leaguers in what was something of a dress rehearsal for what will presumably be an opening-day start against the Rangers. Nola said afterward that he wanted to get up-and-down six times, and that’s exactly what he did.
Nola’s running mate at the top of the Phillies rotation will be looking to do something similar on Tuesday. Zack Wheeler, who is on track to start Game 2 against the Rangers on April 1, is slated to pitch a minor league game. Phillies manager Rob Thomson won’t officially announce his opening-day starter until at least Thursday.
“We want to throw a lot of innings [this season],” Nola said. “That’s why we’re starters. That’s why we build up the way we build up in spring training. That’s what we want to do. We want to put that load on ourselves to keep the bullpen healthy and not have them eat up a lot of innings. I think all of our starters are on the same page with that. Going into the season, we’re prepared to throw a lot of innings.”
The Phillies added some potential minor league center-field depth when they acquired outfielder Jordan Qsar from the Rays in exchange for cash considerations. Qsar, a left-handed hitter, is a non-roster player who hit 17 home runs with a .773 OPS at double A and triple A last season. … The Phillies face the Pirates in Bradenton on Tuesday. Veteran utility man Josh Harrison is scheduled to make the trip to face his former team.