LAKELAND, Fla. – Injuries, as they almost always do, scrapped the Phillies’ initial pitching plans for the start of the season. A rotation with Jerad Eickhoff as the No. 3 starter and a bullpen with Mark Leiter Jr. as a reliable innings-eater reliever were destroyed by arm ailments. Eickhoff (strained lat muscle) will likely be out at least through April and Leiter (mild flexor strain) figures to be out a similar amount of time.
Injuries, of course, always create opportunities and it appears as if veteran righthander Drew Hutchison has seized one of the above jobs following another strong pitching performance Saturday at Publix Field. Hutchison, a non-roster invitee who spent all of last season with Pittsburgh’s triple-A affiliate in Indianapolis, delivered four scoreless innings during the Phillies’ 4-1 win over the Detroit Tigers. The righthander lowered his Grapefruit League ERA to 2.75 in 19 2/3 innings.
“I think I’ve pitched well,” Hutchison said. “I think I’ve taken advantage of all the opportunities I’ve been given and thrown the ball really well, so, yeah, I feel good about the way I’ve performed.”
Hutchison, who for obvious reasons declined to exercise an escape clause in his contract Saturday, said he felt good about his performance against the Tigers because he was not at his best and still had a scoreless result. He allowed just one hit and struck out three, but also walked three, including consecutive hitters with one out in the bottom of the third. After Leonys Martin and Jeimer Candelario executed a double steal, Hutchison had to stare down the ultra-dangerous Miguel Cabrera with runners at second and third.
The 27-year-old righthander responded by getting Cabrera to swing through a fastball for the second out of the inning. The inning ended when Nicholas Castellanos was called for runner’s interference on a grounder that Hutchison had thrown high to first base.
“I thought Hutch was great,” manager Gabe Kapler said. “He worked out of some really tough jams, and we were very interested to see what was going to happen the last time he faced Cabrera, and he stepped up and got super competitive in that stretch.”
If Hutchison makes the team, it will be as a long reliever or the fifth starter. Ben Lively, who pitched five scoreless innings his last time out, could seal the fifth spot in the rotation with a strong outing Sunday against Baltimore. That would leave Hutchison in a long relief role he has seldom performed in the past. Only 13 of his 198 professional appearances have been out of the bullpen.
“We’d be very comfortable using him in a long relief role because of the way his slider plays,” Kapler said. “We’d be comfortable using him in a shorter look and we’d also be comfortable with his in a starting role, if necessary. He profiles very well in multiple positions … and we prize flexibility. I would say he is in a strong position to make the team.”
Jesmuel Valentin added to his positional repertoire by playing first base during Saturday’s win. In addition to making a nice play to his left that robbed Leonys Martin of a hit in the fifth inning, he also went 2-for-3 with a walk, raising his spring average to .295. Valentin, attempting to make the club as an extra man, has played every position except pitcher and catcher this spring.
Outfielder Roman Quinn and utility man Pedro Florimon also had strong days as they continue their quest to earn roster spots.
Rhys Hoskins played in a triple-A game at the Carpenter Complex Saturday in order to get extra at-bats, and he slugged a couple of home runs. … Veteran reliever Francisco Rodriguez was given his unconditional release, trimming the Phillies’ roster to 39. … Nick Pivetta will pitch in a minor-league game Sunday.