BALTIMORE — Two years ago, almost to the day, the Phillies had a 23-17 record and were considered one of the surprising teams in the National League at the season’s quarter pole.
But their general manager knew it was a mirage.
“I remember that well,” Matt Klentak said Tuesday, reflecting on a 2016 Phillies season that went south en route to a 71-91 finish. “We were winning often one-run games that we were wondering how we were doing it. But it was fun.”
When the Phillies showed up here for a rain-delayed interleague series against the Baltimore Orioles, they brought with them a 23-16 record that qualifies them once again as one of the league’s upstart teams. This time, though, Klentak believes they might actually have some staying power.
Klentak’s confidence stems from a pitching staff that entered the week with a 3.44 ERA, fourth-best in the NL. The starting rotation, in particular, has a 3.53 ERA, fifth-best in the majors. And although the bullpen lacks defined roles because of deposed closer Hector Neris’ recent struggles, it has depth and is about to get deeper with the impending returns of Victor Arano (shoulder) and lefty Adam Morgan (back) from the disabled list this week.
“When you look back to the ’16 club, I think we had, at that stage, three guys that were throwing the ball pretty well and we were relying on them pretty heavily in those one-run games,” Klentak said. “But the way this team is evolving, whether we are winning a close game or losing a close game or it’s a blowout game, we’re able to put a good arm on the mound that’s delivered good results for us. And I think our offense is really starting to click now, too. So, I think there are some pretty significant differences between the two seasons.”
In that case, Klentak must be looking to add to the roster before the July 31 trade deadline, right?
“I think it’s a little early to start talking about that,” he said. “There’s been some light dialogue among a few teams so far, but really nothing substantial, just a very early feeling-out. As we get deeper into June and July, I know that activity will pick up, and we’ll just have to see how we stack up when we get to that point.”
Indeed, while Klentak is optimistic about the Phillies’ chances, he’s also realistic. As well as they are playing, their sustainability depends on the continued progress of their young players.
“We have had some players take big steps forward,” Klentak said. “Not all of them. We haven’t batted 1.000. But Odubel [Herrera] is batting .360, [Jorge] Alfaro has developed into a real presence behind the plate, [Nick] Pivetta and [Vince] Velasquez have demonstrated that their performance can match their stuff, and our bullpen has been really solid. If we continue to get those kinds of contributions, I would expect that we’ll remain competitive.”
Righthander Jerad Eickhoff (upper back) allowed two earned runs on five hits and one walk in 3 1/3 innings for double-A Reading. Eickhoff threw 53 pitches and emerged healthy, according to the report received by manager Gabe Kapler.
Eickhoff will continue to build the arm strength required of a starter, although Klentak acknowledged it will be challenging to find a spot for him in the rotation if Pivetta, Velasquez and Zach Eflin continue to pitch well.
Given the chance to use a designated hitter in an American League ballpark, Kapler tabbed Rhys Hoskins, citing a chance to get the leftfielder a respite from having to play defense. … Righthander Mark Leiter Jr. (forearm) was available out of the bullpen after being reinstated from the disabled list.