The Phillies continue to add starting pitchers in preparation for 2021 season

Tom Moore
Bucks County Courier Times

There’s an old baseball adage that you can never have too much pitching.

This applies regardless if it's in reference to a full 162-game MLB schedule or last year’s COVID-shortened, 60-game campaign.

President of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski and the Phillies are well aware of this, which is why they’re adding arms even as they close in on to the $210 million luxury-tax threshold.

Left-hander Matt Moore makes his pitch with the Texas Rangers in 2018.

Ideally, a team would head into the season with at least six major league-caliber starting pitchers. Most clubs utilize a five-man rotation, but injuries, doubleheaders and other factors mean it’s rare to get through a year with fewer than seven guys starting games. The Phils had 10 different starters during the 60-game season, though three of the pitchers opened bullpen games.

The top three 2021 starters – Aaron Nola, Zack Wheeler and Zach Eflin – should be solid, especially Nola and Wheeler. Promising right-hander Spencer Howard figures to have a decent shot at landing one of the other slots.

With the maddening Vince Velasquez somehow still in the mix, Dombrowski signed veteran left-hander Matt Moore to a one-year, $3-million contract plus incentives. On Wednesday, he also reportedly picked up veteran righty Chase Anderson (one year, $4 million).

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While it's hard to imagine Moore or Anderson getting Phillies’ fans too excited, they illustrate the importance of having plenty of arms heading into spring training and the season.

“One of our main goals this year was to get starting pitching depth,” said Dombrowski during Wednesday’s Zoom call. “We’re looking for individuals that can compete for our spots.”

Since the Phillies’ payroll is nearly $200 million, they’re looking for what they perceive as value signings. Moore and Anderson certainly qualify.

Having such a small sample size in 2020 forces folks like Dombrowski and his staff to determine the significance of last year’s numbers.

Anderson, for example, was hit hard in 10 games (seven starts) with the Toronto Blue Jays, compiling a 7.22 ERA. That was a big drop-off from his previous three seasons with the Milwaukee Brewers (3.63 ERA, 29-16 record).

Now 33, has Anderson lost his effectiveness or was it more the case of a few bad outings that snowballed? The Phillies are counting on the latter.

“I think it’s more challenging and you have to do a little more research on them (coming off of 2020),” Dombrowski said. “You have to make decisions based on the information we have.”

Moore spent 2020 pitching in Japan and only started two games in ’19 with the Detroit Tigers before suffering a season-ending knee injury. In 2017-18, he went a combined 9-23 with a 5.99 ERA for the Texas Rangers and San Francisco Giants.

The 31-year-old Moore has postseason experience, including a pair of Game 1 playoff starts, but his 2013 all-star season with the Tampa Bay Rays was almost eight years ago.

It didn’t hurt Moore’s cause that he’s a left-hander on a staff that had no lefty starters last season and also played parts of three seasons (2011-13) with Phillies general manager Sam Fuld in Tampa.

“To have a left-hander is always important because you’re going to face teams that maybe their most dangerous hitters are left-handed and all of a sudden you can neutralize them or even force the other manager to give ’em a day off,” said manager Joe Girardi. “Having different looks is really important for a staff and I think Matt gives us that.”

Moore has high hopes for the Phillies, saying, "The biggest thing with making the decision to come to Philly from the teams (I considered is) it seemed like this team has the best chance of competing at a higher level this year."

While that might be a bit overly optimistic, one thing the Phillies know is Howard is going to be on an innings restriction, which is fairly common with young pitchers.

In order to have Howard available in September and, potentially, October, they could decide on a six-man rotation for at least part of the season, though that wouldn’t be sensible because the Phils don’t want Nola and Wheeler to pitch less frequently. Other options include skipping occasional Howard starts, limiting how long he’s permitted to go or sometimes using him out of the bullpen.

No matter what the Phillies choose, they’re going to need somebody else to eat up some innings in place of Howard.

Lefty Ranger Suarez, who pitched well in the first 2020 spring training and might have been the No. 5 starter before having most of the shortened season wiped out by COVID-19, is another possibility.

Expect a few others to be invited to spring training on minor-league deals, too, as the Phils continue to accumulate starters.

The Blue Jays' Chase Anderson delivers during an August game with the Toronto Blue Jays.

“Acquiring pitching depth is really important because you know at some point – and you pray to God it doesn’t happen – that somebody’s going to get nicked up and you’re going to need that depth,” Girardi said. “I think, from a depth standpoint, we have improved.”

How much and if it’ll be enough for the Phillies to halt their playoff-less streak since 2011 is to be determined.

Tom Moore: tmoore@couriertimes.com; @TomMoorePhilly