Phillies will be careful with Kerkering; Marte off to solid start

Phillies will be careful with Kerkering; Marte off to solid start originally appeared on NBC Sports Philadelphia

WASHINGTON — Phillies reliever Orion Kerkering was set to make another rehab appearance Friday night as he works his way back from a forearm strain.

Kerkering had his rehab assignment transferred from Lehigh Valley to Clearwater because of bad weather in the Northeast. He pitched a scoreless inning with a strikeout last Saturday and was scheduled for one-plus inning Friday.

Kerkering, who turned 23 on Thursday, is first eligible to be activated from the injured list on Tuesday, April 9, but the Phillies may give him a bit more time.

"We'll see what we do," manager Rob Thomson said before the Phils' series opener against the Nationals. "We want to make sure he's good and we're not putting him at risk."

Kerkering was set back in spring training, missing nearly a month after falling ill in early March. He was in line to open the season as one of the Phillies' six core relievers after rocketing all the way from Single A to the majors last year.

His early-season absence allowed Connor Brogdon to make the team, but Brogdon has since been designated for assignment after struggling in all three of his appearances.

It also pushed Yunior Marte into a slightly more important role and Marte has performed early on with four scoreless appearances and only one baserunner.

"I've said all along, ever since we got him, that it's about strike-throwing ability. If he throws strikes with that power sinker and that good slider, he's going to get people out because it's too good of stuff," Thomson said. "He's going to get beat on the ground and that's going to happen sometimes, but at least it's on the ground. He's got that power stuff."

Marte was inconsistent in 2023, his first year as a Phillie, but could turn himself into a pretty important bullpen piece if he can continue to work ahead in counts. Relievers emerge out of nowhere every season in nearly every major-league city. Jeff Hoffman was an example last year, Andrew Bellatti the year before. Neither was viewed as a high-leverage option at first but pitched their way into bigger spots. Sometimes it lasts, sometimes it doesn't.

Through the first two series, Gregory Soto, Hoffman and Marte have been the Phillies' three most effective relievers. Jose Alvarado and Matt Strahm were hit around on Opening Day but have each bounced back nicely with a pair of scoreless appearances.