The Philadelphia Phillies are facing an uphill battle after dropping their first two games of the season by a combined score of 12-4. While the early losses are concerning, the team is taking a measured approach to player workload and injuries.

Planned Day Off for Harper

Star outfielder Bryce Harper will miss Sunday's game against the Atlanta Braves as planned. Manager Rob Thomson confirmed it's not injury-related, and Harper is expected to return on Monday night against the Cincinnati Reds.

This approach is understandable, given the lopsided losses to open the season. Notably, Harper sat out the final game against the Braves, which featured a tough left-handed matchup against Chris Sale.

While not a cause for panic, the rough start puts pressure on the Phillies' offense. Manager Thomson did leave the door open for Harper to pinch-hit on Sunday. Still, he acknowledged the outfielder's recent back tightness, which limited him towards the end of spring training.

The team is clearly prioritizing long-term health by managing Harper's workload throughout the 162-game season.

Bullpen Shuffle: Ortiz Injured, Nelson Recalled

The Phillies' bullpen depth is being tested early on. Right-handed reliever Luis Ortiz landed on the injured list with a sprained left ankle, according to MLB reports. The injury occurred during his first appearance of the season on Saturday.

This unexpected setback creates a need for a reliable arm out of the bullpen. To fill the void, the Phillies recalled Nick Nelson from Triple-A Lehigh Valley. Nelson is a familiar face, having made 37 appearances for the Phillies last year, primarily as a starting pitcher in Triple-A. The hope is that Nelson can adapt to a bullpen role and provide much-needed stability.

Matchup with Familiar Foe and Kerkering's Return

Harper, who has played in the National League throughout his career, is set to confront a known obstacle in the form of the Braves' recently acquired southpaw, Chris Sale. In their only meeting last season on May 5th, 2022, Harper had a quiet outing, managing just one hit in three at-bats against Sale with one strikeout, resulting in a 5-3 Phillies loss.

With two scheduled off days in April, the team is strategically managing Harper's workload to optimize his performance against both left-handed and right-handed pitchers throughout the season.

There's positive news on the injury front. Reliver Orion Kerkering, who missed time with the flu and a strained right forearm in spring training, made a promising return for Triple-A Lehigh Valley on Saturday. In one inning, he didn't allow any runs and struck out one batter.

Kerkering is expected to continue his rehab assignment with Lehigh Valley on Tuesday, aiming to rejoin the Phillies when his 15-day injured list stint ends on April 9th. His return will provide further depth to the bullpen, which is crucial for the Phillies' success, especially considering the early season struggles.

Opening Series Against the Reds

The focus quickly shifts as the Phillies open a series against the Cincinnati Reds on Monday night. Left-hander Cristopher Sánchez will make his first start of the season. Sánchez will face off against fellow southpaw Mike Minor for the Reds. The game's first pitch is set to take place at 6:40 p.m. This matchup presents an opportunity for both young pitchers to establish themselves early in the season.

While the first two games haven't gone according to plan, the Phillies remain optimistic. With strategic rest for key players, a deep bullpen (once healthy), and promising prospects returning from injury, the team has the potential to turn things around. The upcoming series against the Reds offers a chance to get back on track and showcase their resilience.