SAN FRANCISCO — The latest rotation shuffle brought Ben Lively to California, where he will start Sunday for the Phillies. That bumped Mark Leiter Jr. to the bullpen, although he may not be there long because Zach Eflin’s right shoulder is bothering him. Vince Velasquez, on the disabled list, went home and is scheduled next week to meet a vascular specialist in St. Louis. Nick Pivetta is with triple-A Lehigh Valley, but that is just a temporary residence.
The Phillies do not know much about their 2018 rotation. Their knowledge is limited to this: Aaron Nola will be in it.
Beyond that, there are questions — as the current jumble indicates. The Phillies, in each of the last two winters, have buttressed the rotation with two veteran arms. It would not be a shock to see them pursue more veterans on one-year deals this winter.
They have witnessed productive flashes from each of their young starters. But it has not been consistent.
“We’re still looking for guys to get it together,” Pete Mackanin said.
The Phillies manager declined to comment when asked if he would like to see the front office add a few veteran arms for next season. The Phillies have money to spend. They would like to spend it, for now, on short-term commitments. That means they’ll be in the market for pitchers like Jason Vargas, Trevor Cahill, and Chris Tillman — but not the top options in Yu Darvish or Jake Arrieta.
The free-agent market for starting pitchers is not great. The best ones are locked up before they reach free agency. The ones who do are on the wrong side of 30 and considered risks if signed to a contract longer than one or two years. So the Phillies will look for potential trade candidates; that is how they acquired Jeremy Hellickson, Charlie Morton and Clay Buchholz. The returns on those investments were mixed.
The organization’s best pitching prospects are in A ball. Two who have to be added to the 40-man roster this winter, Franklyn Kilome and Ranger Suarez, could begin next season at double A. Drew Anderson has had a decent season at Reading. Elniery Garca, also at Reading, is an unknown as he returns from a shoulder injury and drug suspension.
The Phillies have used 10 different starters this season. Some, like Eflin, have regressed. Eflin, after allowing six runs in five innings Friday, said Saturday his shoulder was “doing better.” He will be examined again Sunday. But he may not make his next start.
There is some concern for Velasquez’s injured right middle finger. The pitcher will see Robert Thompson, a surgeon who is considered one of the foremost experts on thoracic outlet syndrome, a nerve-irritation disorder that has affected a handful of pitchers in recent years. Velasquez’s status is unclear. He has pitched just 72 innings this season.
Pivetta and Lively employ opposite styles in their pitching. Both have enjoyed some success, but it has been outweighed by failures. Jerad Eickhoff has not resembled the pitcher he was a season ago. Still, he is in the plans for next season.
Leiter, the Phillies decided, has more value to them in the bullpen. His stuff has played better there. Mackanin sees Leiter as a prototypical long man. So, instead, Lively has a chance every fifth day.
“This year is another year devoted to find out who is going to be in our future,” Mackanin said.
There is not much else for the manager to declare. That process, so far, has not yielded the sort of results the Phillies hoped to see.
Jorge Alfaro started at first base Saturday. He had not played there in the minors this season, but he has more than 50 games of experience at the position. “So I’m going to give it a shot,” Mackanin said. “It keeps his bat in the lineup.” Alfaro could catch Lively in Sunday’s series finale. … The Phillies are 6-22 against the National League West this season. … Lively will be opposed by Madison Bumgarner, who has a 3.60 ERA against the Phillies in nine career starts.