Pettibone succeeds by staying cool under pressure

Pettibone succeeds by staying cool under pressure

July 14, 2013, 1:00 pm
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It was a ridiculously hot and humid Saturday afternoon at Citizens Bank Park. The kind that can melt a pitcher if he doesn’t stay cool and hydrated between innings.

Jonathan Pettibone is no stranger to these conditions, having beaten the Braves in similar weather in his last start. And against the White Sox, he managed to get through six innings of three-run, six-hit ball before departing in the first game of the Phillies' day-night doubleheader.

Pettibone has proven he can take the heat since he made his major league debut on the April 22, and it doesn’t appear he’ll step out of the fire anytime soon.

At just 22 years of age, the rookie righthander was a surprise selection to fill in for an injured Roy Halladay. In two starts at Triple A Lehigh Valley, Pettibone had given up 10 earned runs in just 9 1/3 innings of work.

As a high prospect since his third-round selection in the 2008 draft, Pettibone was in the Phillies' plans, but on paper he didn’t appear ready. The Phillies' front office thought otherwise, obviously. Despite his numbers in his first two starts, they liked that he was throwing strikes and wanted to see what he could do.

Pettibone was on a short leash the day he stepped on the mound to take on Pittsburgh and was pulled after 5 1/3 innings, having given up just two earned runs. The Phillies won the game, but Pettibone didn’t factor in the decision. He did in his next start, though, and his next. Through his first seven starts, he allowed three runs or less in each and went undefeated in that stretch. He became the first Phillies rookie to allow three earned runs or less in his first seven careers starts since Charles Hudson did it in 1983.

Saturday against the White Sox was Pettibone's 16th career major league start. While he didn’t factor in the decision, it was his seventh quality start. He has yet to give up more than three runs when he goes six innings or longer.

He’s earned high praise from those who play with him and those who are paid to keep a close eye on him. Poise, confidence and fearlessness are all words that can be associated with Pettibone.

His path to the big leagues is not unlike that of Kyle Kendrick. Kendrick was brought up as a fill-in for an injured Freddy Garcia in June 2007. Kendrick made his major league debut, and just like Pettibone on Saturday, gave up three runs over six innings against the White Sox. Thus began a major league career that’s spanned much of the past seven years and counting for Kendrick.

Kendrick’s road to a secure role in the starting rotation took many turns. From June 2007 to July 2008, Kendrick went 18-9 in his first 40 career starts. Once teams had a book on Kendrick they started to hit him around, and after slipping back in late ’08, he was left off the postseason roster while the Phillies went on to win the World Series. He spent most of 2009 and part of 2010 in Triple A. He bounced around from bullpen to rotation until Joe Blanton was traded to the Dodgers last August, and Kendrick has been locked in the rotation ever since.

While Pettibone and Kendrick have taken similar paths to the big leagues, early indications are that Pettibone’s ascension won’t be quite as turbulent.

Kendrick had just two pitches when he got to the majors, albeit good ones: A fastball and a sinker. He’s since added a cutter, which he uses regularly. He relies mainly on those three pitches.

Pettibone had three pitches when he arrived on the scene nearly three months ago: fastball, changeup and slider. He uses his fastball effectively, but as expected of a young pitcher, he has some room to grow when it comes to his secondary pitches. What sets Pettibone apart from other rookies is his poise on the mound.

Carlos Ruiz said he’s never seen a pitcher so confident on the mound at such a young age. Pitching coach Rich Dubee agrees that Pettibone’s confidence has contributed greatly to his early success.

"He’s committed to his stuff and he doesn’t panic," Dubee said.

Pettibone is largely viewed in the organization as a pitcher with the potential to be a No. 3 starter. Whether he’ll get there remains to be seen.

Manager Charlie Manuel likes to refer to the hot weather as “hittin’ weather." The heat, both literally and figuratively, also seems to agree with Pettibone.

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