Phils rookie Pettibone earning praise from teammates

Phils rookie Pettibone earning praise from teammates

May 15, 2013, 8:00 am
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The Phillies have a 4-1 record in the games that Jonathan Pettibone has started. (AP)

When Roy Halladay went on the DL for seven weeks last season, the Phillies fell apart. They went 15-27, largely because the starting pitchers failed to step up in his absence. Cliff Lee had a 4.99 ERA while Halladay was out. Joe Blanton was at 5.02. Kyle Kendrick, 5.72.

This time, the Phils appear to be better prepared for life without Doc.

Jonathan Pettibone, who joined the rotation when John Lannan got hurt and is occupying a larger role with Halladay out, has pitched remarkably well as a rookie. He allowed two runs in 6 2/3 innings Tuesday to improve to 3-0 with a 3.41 ERA in five starts (see Instant Replay). He’s the first Phillie since Randy Wolf in 1999 to begin his career 3-0 while pitching exclusively as a starter.

Pettibone has kept the Phillies in each game he’s pitched, not allowing more than three runs in any start. The Phils have won four of his five outings and, even if things looked bleak early on Tuesday, he minimized damage long enough for the bats to come around.

“I'd say for this being the first time he's in the major leagues, I think he's doing a tremendous job,” manager Charlie Manuel said of his 22-year-old rookie.

“Pettibone pitched brilliantly,” added Kevin Frandsen, who homered and got on base three times filling in for Chase Utley at second base. “What he did -- he never gave in, just kept us in there. He could've let it go when we were down 2-1, but he kept fighting, fighting, fighting, and made great pitches. More than anything, the hitting will come around, but that's a stud right there. He didn't back down as a rookie. That's awesome.”

After a 1-2-3 first inning, Pettibone put runners on second and third with nobody out. He had excelled out of the stretch in his first four starts, stranding 87 percent of the men he put on base, but this time Michael Brantley got to him, singling in both runners to give the Indians a one-run lead. Two strikeouts later, the inning was over.

In the third, Pettibone again got into trouble, walking Jason Kipnis and then hitting Nick Swisher and Carlos Santana to load the bases. (The last Phillies pitcher to hit back-to-back batters was Chad Durbin on May 6, 2010.) But again, Pettibone made his pitches and got Mark Reynolds to pop out to end the threat.

After that, smooth sailing. Pettibone kept the Indians at bay long enough for John Mayberry and Domonic Brown to stake the Phillies to a two-run lead that eventually grew to four.

“Escaping with no runs, especially after that second inning, giving up two, you don't want to dig too big a hole that early in the game,” Pettibone said of escaping trouble in the third. “Getting out of that inning, I was able to build off that for the rest of the game.”

“Those mistakes by a young guy, they can just snowball,” Frandsen said. “But it just made him better. And that’s one of those cool situations as a teammate. I would never call myself old, but being around this game for a long time, that was awesome.”

Manuel yanked Pettibone with two outs in the seventh inning, ending the longest start of his young career. The righty wanted to keep going – he had thrown just 92 pitches – but a pair of lefties were coming up and Manuel opted for Antonio Bastardo.

Going deep into games is something Pettibone prides himself on. He always has. He didn’t want to come out.

“Last outing, I think I was at 110-plus [pitches] and I felt fine,” Pettibone said. “So anywhere around that kind of pitch count, you're good. Especially with adrenaline late in the game, the close ball game, you don't feel any fatigue, or anything, really. You're ready to go.”

That mentality is what impressed Frandsen about Pettibone from the time Pettibone was a 19-year-old in Single A.

“I saw him -- I guess it was an unfortunate situation where I was suspended and went down to Clearwater and I was rehabbing there two years ago -- and the first thing I said when I came back to Lehigh was, 'That kid is the best of the three,’” Frandsen recalled, referring back to Pettibone, Jarred Cosart and Trevor May. (Cosart was dealt to Houston for Hunter Pence, and May to Minnesota for Ben Revere.)

“They talked about the big three, but [Pettibone] pitched with some stones. I feel like as a young, 19-20-year-old at that time … that's different. Especially in A-ball, you can go for the strikeout every time, but he was worried about going deep into games. That takes precedence over anything.”

It certainly did on Tuesday in a close game. The Phillies were without Mike Adams (back spasms), but Pettibone got them deep enough and a beleaguered bullpen finally stranded its inherited runners (see story).

It was one of the most complete games the Phillies have played all year, and it was exactly the way they wanted to open a five-game homestand against two Ohio teams that embarrassed them on the road last month.

Cole Hamels takes the hill Wednesday, looking to pick up where the 22-year-old rookie with “stones” left off.