Spencer Howard will start for Phillies vs. Red Sox Saturday

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Phillies turning back to their top pitching prospect Saturday originally appeared on NBC Sports Philadelphia

Spencer Howard, not Chase Anderson, will start for the Phillies Saturday night against the Red Sox, manager Joe Girardi revealed prior to Friday’s series opener.

The Phillies’ 24-year-old top pitching prospect had been at Triple A, where he allowed one run on three hits in nine innings with 13 strikeouts. Howard is on an innings limit this season, and the question had been raised in recent days whether that workload should be coming for the big team rather than in the minors.

Things haven’t gone according to plan at the back of the Phillies’ rotation. Matt Moore lasted three games as the No. 4 starter before being placed in COVID protocol and replaced by Vince Velasquez, who was scratched 20 minutes before first pitch Thursday with a finger injury.

Velasquez went through tests Friday and the Phillies think he’ll be able to make his next start.

Anderson has a 6.96 ERA in eight starts and has completed five innings only three times. He was lit up in Dunedin by the Blue Jays his last time out, surrendering seven runs in 1⅓ innings.

For now, Anderson will pitch out of the bullpen. Between Anderson, Moore and David Hale, the Phillies have three long relievers, which is probably one or two too many. Perhaps Moore gains more importance as a left-on-left guy with JoJo Romero done for the season (Tommy John surgery).

Howard started six games for the Phillies in 2020 and went 1-2 with a 5.92 ERA. He made three bullpen appearances in April and gave up four runs in 4⅓ innings, striking out eight. In that brief stint, he showed a much better fastball than he had last summer.

Howard will be on a pitch count of 55 to 60 on Saturday, Girardi said. 

He’s a key piece of the Phillies’ future but is also important to their chances this season, whether he remains in the rotation or is moved to the bullpen at some point to keep the workload in check.

Howard has made 50 minor-league starts and has a 3.19 ERA with 294 strikeouts and just 11 home runs allowed in 220⅓ innings. As a rookie in the majors in 2020, he was taken deep six times in 24⅓ innings.

His velocity Saturday will be worth monitoring. His fastball averaged 96.7 mph as a reliever in April compared to 94.2 mph last summer as a starter.

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