Every roster move that the Phillies make this season starts with a check of the 40-man roster. If a player isn't on the aforementioned roster, his odds of getting a call-up get more difficult. In the case of replacing Clay Buchholz, whose partial tear of the flexor pronator mass has him headed for the DL, the Phillies have it easy. Right now, the Lehigh Valley IronPigs have six starters on their roster and they're all on the 40-man roster.
You can quickly eliminate Ricardo Pinto from consideration for Buchholz spot. Nothing against the guy, but he's the least experienced of the six and if Zach Eflin hadn't opened the season on the DL, Pinto likely would have started at Double-A Reading. He pitched pretty well in his Triple-A debut last Saturday, but his experience level just doesn't make him a front-runner. The good news for Pinto though is that the injury to Buchholz likely means an extended stay for him with Lehigh Valley.
Mark Appel is likely the second man out. There is still a lot of potential there, but Appel still has a lot to prove in the minors before he's ready for a major league debut. In fact, some scouts peg him more as a reliever than they do a starter in the long-run, but that's a story for another day.
Coming into the season, Thompson seemed to be the guy in the front of the line. He's coming off a minor league season that saw him win the International League Pitcher of the Year Award and make his major league debut. While things didn't exactly go as planned in the majors (3-6, 5.70 in 10 starts) Thompson picked up some valuable experience and hopefully, got the jitters of being a major league pitcher out of the way.
Problem right now with Thompson is that he's been horrible in his first two starts of the season. Against Pawtucket and Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, Thompson is a combined 0-2 with a 28.93 ERA - 4 2/3 IP, 15 H, 15 ER, 6 BB, 5 K - and simply hasn't looked like himself. With Thompson's latest outing coming just last night against the RailRiders, he's on the perfect schedule to make the start Tuesday, but bringing a guy who has struggled badly in his first two starts back to the majors where he struggled last season doesn't make a whole lot of sense, especially when there are other options.
Like Thompson, Eflin made his MLB debut last season, but also struggled - 3-5, 5.54 in 11 starts - at the big league level. Late in the season, Eflin admitted that he was having soreness in both knees and underwent bilateral knee surgery during the Winter, which slowed him in Spring Training. He opened the season on the Phillies DL, pitched one strong rehab outing with Clearwater and was then activated and optioned to Lehigh Valley. In his first start with the IronPigs, Eflin was impressive, giving the 'Pigs five scoreless innings against Scranton/Wilkes-Barre on Tuesday. In his two minor league starts this season, he has 10 shutout innings, allowing six hits and three walks, while striking out 10 batters.
Having pitched Tuesday, it wouldn't be an issue to have Eflin pitch Tuesday in New York, so he moves to the head of the class.
That leaves Lively and Pivetta. Neither has pitched in the majors and both made their Triple-A debuts last season with Lehigh Valley. They also both pitched on Sunday in a double-header for Lehigh Valley, meaning that their next natural day to start would be Friday. It wouldn't be out of the question for the Phillies to have one of them pitch just a couple innings Friday in Pawtucket and then have three days rest before making a start in New York for the Phillies. They could also elect to just have whichever one they're going to have start just pitch a few simulated innings with the IronPigs and then come up to Philadelphia.
One thing to consider is that Buchholz figures to miss a lot of time, so whoever comes up to the bigs might plan on being there for a while, as long as they pitch well. Between Lively and Pivetta, Lively is more advanced as a pitcher and could be ready for the majors, so let's take Pivetta out of the picture, which gives him a little more time at Lehigh Valley. That leaves Eflin and Lively to consider for the Phillies rotation.
Eflin at least has some major league experience, but he's also had less time to get ready this Spring because of the setback from the knee surgery. He's fine to pitch at Triple-A, but has he had enough of a work load to return to the majors? Lively is knocking on the door and appears to be ready for his debut. Considering that Eflin is more advanced, and that the timing of the start works out better, Eflin makes the most sense for the Phillies to use for Buchholz spot in the rotation.
For all the talk about the Phillies deep starting pitching prospects, the Baseball Gods have a way of sorting these things out. Buchholz is down with an injury, Jeremy Hellickson left his last start early with a twinge in his forearm, and Vince Velasquez has been - his word here - "terrible." You then have Jerad Eickhoff, who has been good in his time in the majors, and Aaron Nola, who looked good his first time out, but is coming off an injury as well. Add to that the struggles of Thompson at Triple-A and the long-term concerns about Appel as a starter and suddenly you see why the Phillies wanted all of these young arms in the first place.
General managers plan, and the Baseball Gods laugh.