The Phillies have announced that right-handed pitcher Mark Leiter Jr. suffered a flexor strain in his pitching arm and will miss at least the first month of the regular season. But it could have been much, much worse.
Leiter traveled from Clearwater to Philadelphia on Monday after feeling “tightness in his right forearm,” sometimes a symptom of a torn UCL in the elbow, an injury that generally requires a pitcher to undergo Tommy John surgery. Happily, Leiter will only be shut down for two to three weeks and then go on a rehab assignment in an effort to secure a spot in the Phillies bullpen.
Leiter had been on track to make the team out of spring training as part of the team’s seven or eight-man ‘pen. In five appearances (12.1 innings), Leiter gave up 13 hits and six earned runs, but piled up an eye-popping 17 strikeouts and three walks. In fact, those 17 Ks are the most of any pitcher on the Phils’ roster this spring.
Leiter emerged as a decent swing man for the Phillies in 2017, with a 4.50 ERA in 30 innings out of the bullpen, holding opponents to a .196/.310/.360 slash line. In 60.2 innings as a starter last year, he allowed a line of .278/.332/.506 with a 5.19 ERA.
With Jerad Eickhoff already slated to miss the first month and a half and now Leiter starting the season on the DL, some potential spots on the 25-man roster have opened up. Nick Pivetta appears destined to start as the No. 4 starter, and Ben Lively’s five innings of shutout ball on Tuesday certainly didn’t hurt his chances to lock down the No. 5 spot until Eickhoff returns.
In the ‘pen, non-roster invitee Drew Hutchison suddenly has a chance to make the club, or the team could bring up Jake Thompson, the former starting pitcher that manager Gabe Kapler announced on Tuesday was being converted to a reliever. Or, it could open up a spot on the bench for a non-roster invitee like Pedro Florimon, who has played extremely well down in Clearwater.