Matt Strahm plays Blue Jays two innings as Phillies tries to stretch him

Strahm goes 2 scoreless against Blue Jays as Phillies prepare to stretch him out originally appeared on NBC Sports Philadelphia

The Phillies didn’t sign Matt Strahm to be a long helper, but if the opportunity arises…

Strahm started against the Blue Jays in Dunedin on Friday and went two scoreless innings in an 8-1 win. Against a star-studded lineup that included George Springer, Bo Bichette, Vladimir Guerrero Jr., Brandon Belt and Whit Merrifield, Strahm put just one man on base and hit four. He was spotless after a leadoff single by Springer.

The Phillies want Strahm sprawled out of camp to pitch several innings, and there are several reasons for this:

• When spring training began, Andrew Painter was involved in a fight with Bailey Falter for the Phillies’ last rotation spot. Had Painter won the job, Falter would have been in the game as the long man, but Painter’s elbow sprain gave Falter the job, which allowed a five-inning run in the Phillies’ other split-squad game against the Blue Jays on Friday.

• Cristopher Sanchez had been under discussion all spring as a candidate in this rotation but he was slowed down by back and hamstring injuries and has more than an inning to serve.

• Nick Nelson, who was the Phillies’ longtime helper last year, is also struggling with a hamstring injury that will sideline him at the start of the regular season.

• Michael Plassmeyer, a left-hander with the stamina to start or pitch big innings, could be needed in the season-opening rotation as Ranger Suarez was slowed down at camp with a minor forearm injury.

There are seven locks in the Phils’ bullpen: Seranthony Dominguez, Jose Alvarado, Craig Kimbrel, Gregory Soto, Strahm, Andrew Bellatti and Connor Brogdon. Last spot could go to Yunior Marte, a hard-shooting right-hander acquired from the Giants this offseason.

Few of those eight helpers are outfitted for more than one inning. Brogdon has done it 15 times in 2021 and four times last season, including two playoff appearances that went over two innings. Bellatti made it four times last season and struggled twice.

Strahm is in a slightly different place. He started in 16 games for the Padres in 2019, throwing 114⅔ innings as a reliever and starter. These weren’t opener appearances — he’s had 12 starts of at least five innings that year.

Strahm, who signed a two-year, $15 million contract early in the offseason, is poised to play in any role the Phillies assign, be it a left-hander left matchup, high-leverage work in the later innings or a multi-inning performance in mid-game.

“Anytime anyone asks, I’ll just say I’m a pitcher,” he said earlier this spring. “I’m here to win. I don’t care about the role, I just care that we hold that trophy at the end of the year. If that means I’m the cleaner, I’m the cleaner man, but at least it means I’m the cleaner for a championship team. I have no worries, just throw the ball.”

31-year-old Strahm is looking forward to starting the season pain-free. He tore his patellar tendon in 2017 and has spent every offseason up to this last focusing on rehab and strengthening his left knee. He had a 3.83 ERA with 10.5 strikeouts per nine innings for the 2022 Red Sox and has a chance to be even more effective this season.

“Since 2017, when I blew out my left knee, it’s been a pretty bumpy road and I’ve never felt like I had my legs under me,” he said. “Even last year I didn’t feel like I had my legs completely under me because my off-season was more about rehab than preparing for a season. It was more about getting healthy for a season.

“I feel like I’m 19 again.”

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