PHILS TYLER PHILLIPS STARTS SATURDAY, MERCADO TO BULLPEN!

By Peter Marks

The Phillies are making an adjustment:

Rookie right-hander Tyler Phillips will make his first big league start on Saturday against the A’s, tweets Matt Gelb of the Athletic.

Fellow rookie Michael Mercado is set to work from the bullpen.

Mercado threw five innings of one-run ball against the Cubs in his first MLB start. The Braves teed off on Mercado on Saturday, though, tagging him for five runs on a trio of homers before he could escape the second inning. While one poor start won’t change the organization’s view on Mercado, most prospect evaluators suggest his fastball-curveball arsenal is better suited for relief work.

A former second-round pick of the Rays, Mercado joined the Phils in a minor trade at the beginning of last offseason. He has started 10 of 14 appearances with Triple-A Lehigh Valley. Mercado has a stellar 1.71 earned run average at the top minor league level. However, he has walked more than 11% of batters faced while averaging fewer than four innings per appearance.

Phillips has had a more conventional starting role with Lehigh Valley. He has started all 15 Triple-A appearances and averaged slightly more than six innings per game. His 4.89 ERA is a lot more pedestrian than Mercado’s mark, although he has shown somewhat better control (9.4% walk rate). Mercado throws a bit harder than Phillips does and has demonstrated a lot more bat-missing ability in the minor leagues. Phillips, whom the team added to the 40-man roster last week, has a modest 19.8% strikeout rate for the IronPigs. To his credit, Phillips punched out seven hitters across four innings of relief behind Mercado against Atlanta in his big league debut.

The Phillies have built enough of a cushion that they shouldn’t be concerned about some short-term uncertainty in their starting five. They’re eight games clear of the Braves for the division lead and 4.5 games ahead of the Dodgers for the National League’s top seed. An excellent rotation has been a major reason. Philadelphia’s front four of Zack Wheeler, Aaron Nola, Ranger Suárez and Cristopher Sánchez is arguably the best in MLB.

The fifth spot is the only question mark. Taijuan Walker allowed a 5.60 ERA over 10 starts before inflammation in his index finger sent him to the injured list a few weeks ago. Spencer Turnbull managed great results as a sixth starter, but he sustained a lat strain that’ll knock him out into August.

Barring injury, the Phils look like the rare contender that doesn’t need to urgently pursue rotation help over the next three weeks.

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