We are back once again with the 97.3 ESPN Phillies Mailbag.  We take your Phillies questions and answer them on The Sports Bash with Mike Gill.  Tune in Tuesday afternoons to hear your questions answered on the air.

What do you think of the center field competition?

Cristian Pache was picked up by the Phillies in a March 30 trade last season.  He gave the Phillies a strong glove and a right-handed bat, something that the team could have used.  But the injury bug bit Pache two separate times last season, so he arguably hasn't had the chance to show what his talent would translate to in a full season.

Therefore, I think the Phillies will be sure hang on to him.  Pache has looked good this Spring, batting in the high .200s to .300 with a pair of home runs.  But he has also down what he does best: flash leather.

I've often said that he profiles similarly to Johan Rojas, and indeed there may be a bit of competition.  I think that the Phillies are very much open to sending Rojas to Triple-A, which he skipped last season, to get some more at bats before he lands in the Major Leagues permanently.

Rojas has been striking out around 20% of the time this Spring, while batting .171.  That could be enough to make the Phillies decide to give him some time at Triple-A.  The Phillies have plenty of roster options on the 40-man roster beyond Rojas.

Last week, Phillies manager Rob Thomson indicated that he needed to work on his lower half in his swing.  That leads me to believe that Rojas could be sent to Triple-A.

The Phillies have also tended to keep talent around instead of losing them.  Pache is out of options and would need to be made available to the rest of the league before he could be outrighted to Triple-A Lehigh Valley.  I think they will want to hang onto him, whether Rojas is there or not.

But as similar players, it might make more sense to keep Pache and let Rojas develop at Triple-A.

Are you worried about what Aaron Nola thinks about Zack Wheeler being the Opening Day starter?

I was a little surprised, to be honest, that the Phillies broke tradition and named Zack Wheeler the Phillies Opening Day starter.  But when it comes down to it, I think there were two factors.  The first: There have been few who have been as consistent as Wheeler in Major League Baseball the last four seasons.  Second: Aaron Nola and his wife Hunter Jayde are set to have a child on or around Opening Day.

Wheeler's numbers certainly justify the decision.   Whether you track Fangraphs WAR or Baseball Reference WAR, Wheeler leads all pitchers the last four seasons.

Nola was very supportive of the decision. Practically, if there is a chance he will go on paternity leave, the certainty of having Wheeler start the season would be helpful in the Phillies quest to get off to a better start in 2024.  Slow starts have marred the Phillies the last two seasons.

With a healthy Bryce Harper and Ranger Suárez on the Phillies roster to begin 2024, the Phillies will be better off.  But the certain that comes with Wheeler in game one against National League East rival Atlanta Braves, it's hard to argue with the decision.

Who would fill out the Phillies bench?

The Phillies added Whit Merrifield to the mix this offseason.  He may be the non-starter who plays a lot.  Left field could be filled by Brandon Marsh and center field by the winner of the Cristian Pache / Johan Rojas competition.  If Rojas starts at Triple-A, that leaves room for a player that profiles differently.

Assuming 13 pitchers and with Kyle Schwarber as the full-time designated hitter, there is room for four bench positions.  Garrett Stubbs is a lock to be the backup catcher.   With Merrifield there is room for three more players.   One will be be Edmundo Sosa, best suited for shortstop.

At least one bat will need to be left-handed.  That can come in the form of Jake Cave, Kody Clemens, or Darick Hall.  Even David Dahl has played himself into the mix.  Unlike the other three, Dahl is not on the Phillies 40-man roster.

That probably leaves room for one more bench piece behind the left-handed bat.  It's helpful that Merrifield can play infield and outfield.  I think a second left-handed bat will be helpful to the Phillies.

I'm not sure where Hall fits on this Phillies roster.  He exists for protection for Schwarber and Bryce Harper as a potential designated hitter and first base fill-in.  Therefore, he'd end up at Triple-A.

I can see the Phillies going with Cave and Clemens to start the season.  The versatility that Clemens brings will be helpful to the Phillies.  Cave is out of options.  That means the Phillies would lose him completely; the Phillies have tended to prefer to keep the players rather than lose them.

The Phillies also have the option of carrying a 14th pitcher early in the season.  In that case, the Phillies might leave Clemens in the minor leagues, if they feel the extra arm will help.  It is notable, however, that the Phillies carried 13 pitchers to start 2023.

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