10:07am: Reliever Tommy Hunter was pushed to the 60-day injured list, opening the needed 40-man spot. He will not be eligible to return to the majors until the end of May.
9:36am: The club has announced the move and selected the contract of infielder Phil Gosselin. He’ll take the open active roster spot but will also need a 40-man slot, meaning that another transaction is still coming.
9:19am: The Phillies have made an early-season change in their rotation by optioning down struggling righty Nick Pivetta, Matt Gelb of The Athletic is among those to cover via Twitter. He’ll be replaced in the starting five by just-recalled righty Jerad Eickhoff, with a corresponding roster move as yet unknown.
This is a notable move for a variety of reasons. Among other things, the team’s control rights are implicated. Pivetta entered the season with 1.129 years of service and now sits at 1.149. He’ll need to be on the active roster for at least 23 more days this season to pass into a new service class. The demotion all but ends any possibility that he’d be a Super Two player this fall.
Service time considerations surely didn’t drive this decision. The Phils are locked in an intense divisional battle and need every bit of quality they can muster on the MLB roster. Pivetta just hasn’t had it; through four starts and 18 1/3 innings, he has coughed up 17 earned runs on 31 hits with a 16:8 K/BB ratio. His swinging-strike rate has dropped from 12.0% last year down to 8.5% in 2019.
It makes sense to allow Pivetta some time to work things out; likewise, it’s understandable that the club wishes to give Eickhoff an early run in the rotation. He has already shown the ability to be a high-quality MLB hurler, with a 3.87 ERA through 385 2/3 innings. Injuries intervened, but the hope now is that he’s ready to return to his previously established ceiling.
Eickhoff, now 28, certainly had a promising season debut yesterday against the Mets. His velocity was back at its customary 91 mph level. Eickhoff threw four scoreless frames in relief, striking out six while allowing just three baserunners. That stood in contrast to Pivetta’s own, messier effort over the first five innings of a contest that turned out to be a rotation face-off.
This switch is notable, but doesn’t come with particularly high stakes for the team. Pivetta can always be brought back up; he’d be a fascinating multi-inning relief candidate if there’s no need or desire to return him to a starting role later this year. If neither pitcher is up to the task, there are alternatives. Enyel De Los Santos, Ranger Suarez, and Drew Anderson all have 40-man spots, prior MLB experience, and rotation jobs at Triple-A. The summer trade market should offer some opportunities. And there’s always a possibility that the Phils will come back around to still-unsigned veteran Dallas Keuchel, who was a reported target at times over the offseason.