Phillies pitchers and catchers report: Aaron Nola highlights starting five

Aaron Nola strikes out career-high nine but Phillies falter in home opener
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The Phillies starting rotation is actually better than it was at this time last year. That sounds like a stretch considering that Cole Hamels anchored the 2015 staff. Losing King Cole hurts but the same can’t be said for such retreads as Aaron Harang and Jerome Williams, as well as Sean O’Sullivan and co.

“I think the staff will improve this season,” catcher Cameron Rupp said. “We have a lot of young talent.”

The Phillies have done a nice job adding developing arms. Aaron Nola, who is only 22, could be the opening day starter. “I don’t care if I get that (assignment) or not,” Nola said. “I’m just looking forward to pitching.”

Phillies fans are looking forward to seeing if Nola can improve on his impressive rookie season, in which he posted a 6-2 record with a 3.59 ERA and a 1.179 WHIP.

“It was a good start,” Nola said. “But I have to take it up a notch.”

Jerad Eickhoff was on the bottom end of the Hamels deal but manager Pete Mackanin expects the big Indiana native to make the rotation.

Jeremy Hellickson is the wildcard. “Hellboy” won the 2011 American League Rookie of the Year award. Hellickson struggled last season with the Diamondbacks. Can Hellickson find his groove?

Vincent Velasquez, the jewel of the Ken Giles deal, has great stuff. The only question is whether he’ll start with the Phillies or in Triple-A? Velasquez pitched decently in 19 starts (1.275 WHIP) for the Astros. Velasquez will be given every opportunity to start.

It might look like Roy Halladay but it’s actually Charlie Morton, who has copied Doc’s windup. Will the results be better in Philly than they were in Pittsburgh for Morton?

Brett Oberholtzer, who was also picked up in the Giles transaction, is out of options. Oberholtzer, who started eight games, could be the fifth starter. It should help that Oberholtzer is a lefty but Mackanin said he is comfortable going with a rotation lacking a southpaw.

Can Adam Morgan or David Buchanan have a good enough springs to be considered for rotation spots? The former has options and the latter struggled mightily at times last season.

The bullpen is even more wide open than the rotation. David Hernandez is the favorite to earn the closer’s role. The set up gigs are up in the air. Jeanmar Gomez impressed last season. Luis Garcia had his moments. Elvis Araujo was solid during the second half of the injury before suffering a groin injury that ended his season. The gut feeling here is that Mario Hollands will make an impact. Hollands had a great spring in 2014. The cerebral southpaw pitched well but is coming back from Tommy John surgery, which caused him to miss 2015. Bobby LaFromboise, who sounds like the sous chef at a Stephen Starr restaurant, pitched well enough in Triple-A last season that the Phillies cleared roster space by DFAing star-crossed Jesse Biddle.

If lefty Daniel Stumpf pitches decently, the Rule 5 pick from Kansas City, will stick. Hector Neris proved to be a good strikeout pitcher last season. Will he prove to be something else as well this season? Dalier Hinojosa showed some flashes in 2015. Jimmy Cordero, who was acquired in the Ben Revere deal, was dominant at times in Double-A with his 100 mph plus fastball. Can he skip Triple-A?

As for the catchers, there is Rupp, who found his power stroke the second half of the season. “It all came together for me,” Rupp said. “It helped that I got regular playing time.”

Rupp supplanted Carlos Ruiz as the Phillies starting catcher. Chooch had a rough season (an anemic .575 OPS) but what do you expect from a catcher with very high mileage on him? It’s probably not going to get any better for Ruiz, who just turned 37. Youngsters Andrew Knapp and Jorge Alfaro are waiting in the wings but each need more seasoning.

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