Justin De Fratus May Soon Overtake Phillippe Aumont

Justin De Fratus May Soon Overtake Phillippe Aumont

By the second out of the eighth inning yesterday, Antonio Bastardo had hit a wall, Mike Adams was likely unavailable, Chad Durbin wasn't a fit for the circumstances and Jeremy Horst wasn't a righty.

Due up with men on first and third and one out was Indians surprise slugger Mark Reynolds, who hit .301 with a 1.019 OPS and ML-leading eight home runs in the first month -- also a righty.

In other words, this was clearly Phillippe Aumont's spot. At least it used to be.

Instead, Justin De Fratus entered, as he did on Sunday, the very first day he was called up.

Aumont hasn't thrown since May 9.

If that seems like a clear intimation of the organization's feelings on the two, that's because it likely is.

The Phillies can play wait and see until May 21, when the rotation must expand back to five starters. But with four relievers (Durbin, Bastardo, Adams, Papelbon) due guaranteed money and only three of (Bastardo, Horst and Raul Valdes) throwing left-handed, it stands to reason that the table is set for Aumont to be optioned.

Especially since the 25-year-old De Fratus was so effective. He popped up Reynolds on two pitches, helping the Phillies carry a then two-run lead to Jonathan Papelbon to return the favor two weeks to the day that the Indians laid on a 48-hour walloping in Cleveland. The night of his 2013 debut, De Fratus gassed Diamondbacks slugger Paul Goldschmidt in the bottom of the ninth to send a tie game to extras of a road trip-wrapping win, setting the table for last night.

It's only two appearances, but it's twice that De Fratus has done what's expected: get outs.

You can't say the same about Aumont. Though he's punched a 2.45 ERA this year, he's been charged with three losses in 13 outings. Bastardo had only two more in 65 appearances during his train wrecky 2012. Worse, with as many walks (7) as strikeouts so far, Aumont's yet to be able to demonstrate he can consistently command his 97 m.p.h. heat, which, it stands to reason, is the only reason he's here.

De Fratus, meanwhile, does seem to have a handle on his 94-96 m.p.h. fastball, which would replace Aumont as second on the relief staff, the owners of the second-slowest average fastball velocity in baseball. This year's samples are too small for comparison. But last year at Triple-A Lehigh Valley, the De Fratus struck out 9.14 per nine for a 7.33 strikeout-to-walk ratio. De Fratus, frankly, is exactly what this bullpen needs.

If not for an elbow strain (which, as he put it jokingly to me, was caused by being "young and stupid" with his offseason throwing program in 2012 and trying to ratchet it up before he was ready, as opposed to some serious problem caused by acute stress or shoddy mechanics), De Fratus may have already been here.

Though the way it's looking now, De Fratus may be here to stay.

No, 24 Temple ready to make more history in Military Bowl vs. Wake Forest

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No, 24 Temple ready to make more history in Military Bowl vs. Wake Forest

Less than 24 hours after senior offensive lineman Dion Dawkins put Temple’s American Athletic Conference trophy in its case at Edberg-Olson Hall, it had to be taken out again.

There were too many fingerprints on the championship hardware from all the people holding it after Temple’s 34-10  win against Navy on Saturday at Navy-Marine Corps Stadium in Annapolis, Maryland. Now clean, the trophy is back in its secure spot as a reminder of one of the program's biggest accomplishments.

“When we go back to 10th and Diamond and see that trophy case, ‘We can say, Dang. Like that’s us,’” Dawkins said. “We did this. We built this. We started this legacy at Temple with coach Rhule.”

Dawkins and the Owls will have another opportunity to build on their "legacy" when they travel back to Annapolis for the Military Bowl on Dec. 27 against Wake Forest.

The Demon Deacons, who play in the Atlantic Coast Conference, finished the year 6-6 after losing its last three games.

“I think for us there’s two reasons,” Rhule said of the Owls’ decision to return to Annapolis for a bowl game. “We wanted to play a Power 5 team. We wanted to play an ACC or SEC team. And I think once we won there, and we saw what our crowd was there. I think this will just be a tremendous opportunity for all of Temple people to come down and see us play an ACC team.”

Last year’s Temple seniors went down as one of the best senior classes in program history. They went to the program's first bowl game in five years, they were ranked in the Top 25 for the first time in 36 years, and they won 10 games for just the second time in program history.

This season, Temple has matched those marks with one game still left to go. When the Owls play in the Military Bowl, they’ll make program history by appearing in bowl games in consecutive years. On Sunday, the Owls appeared in the College Football Playoff (No. 24), Associated Press (No. 23) and USA Today Coaches poll (No. 24) rankings for the first time this season. A Temple team ranked in consecutive seasons is another first.

Even after clinching the AAC title on Saturday, there’s still more this team can do. The Owls haven’t won a bowl game since 2009. Temple ended 2015 with a loss to Toledo in the Boca Raton Bowl, which dropped the Owls from the final rankings. Rhule hopes his team can end this season in the Top 25. They’ve only done it once before - in 1979, when Wayne Hardin’s group finished No. 17 after a 10-2 year.

“I’m a big believer in legacy," Rhule said. "And I try to talk to our players about, ‘When you come back, the memories you’ll have, but also the things that will remind you of the things that you did, your accomplishments. And when they look up this team, we’d like to have a number next to it. It tells you that we’re one of the top teams in the country.”

The Owls also have a shot at the 11th win that eluded the 2015 team. Including this year’s team, Temple has had three 10-win seasons in its history. No Temple team has ever won more.

“Right now, we’re going to celebrate,” redshirt-senior defensive lineman Haason Reddick said after Saturday’s game. “This was a big accomplishment. Once we figure out which bowl game we’re going to and it’s time to start preparing for the bowl game, that’s what we’re going to do. We’re going to go in with a championship-caliber mind again, that way we can get an 11th win and hopefully end this thing 11-3.”

After another low point for Eagles, Doug Pederson says they're trying

After another low point for Eagles, Doug Pederson says they're trying

CINCINNATI – As a light rain began to fall on a chilly Midwest night, the Eagles, more dejected than they’ve been all season, made their way through the bowels of Paul Brown Stadium to their buses to begin the long trek back to Philadelphia.

After starting their season with three straight wins, the Eagles have been losers in seven of their last nine games after getting trounced 32-14 by a Bengals team that entered Sunday with just three wins (see Instant Replay). The game wasn’t nearly as close as the final score indicated.

Hey, at least they tried real hard.

“It’s not for lack of effort,” head coach Doug Pederson said. “It’s just the discipline of your assignments, your jobs. And just collectively just focus on that one play at one time. But it’s not for lack of effort.”

Effort was a buzz-worthy word after the Eagles’ 27-13 loss to the Packers last Monday night. It was the reason Pederson cited when he said his team was going in the right direction despite the compounding losses.

Then the Eagles came out five days later and played what was perhaps their worst game of the 2016 season. Carson Wentz and the Eagles were one of the hottest teams in the NFL through the season's first three weeks.

It seems like a long time ago. Things have gone the other way after the Week 4 bye.

The Eagles found another low point on Sunday (see 10 observations from the loss).

“Well, obviously very disappointed in the way we played,” Pederson said. “That’s the first thing. And it’s a collective effort, all three phases tonight. ... I just mentioned to the team after the game that we individually, myself included, I tell you guys this every week. I’m the hardest critic on myself. I’m with that group in that locker room. And we all have to take a collective effort, but individually take that collective effort and just look at yourself in the mirror. The man in the mirror and see if we’re doing enough.”

On Sunday in Cincinnati, the Eagles’ offense was stagnant until garbage time and their defense allowed a banged-up Bengals offense to score on each of its first six possessions.

When the Eagles have been at their best this season, they’ve played complementary football. The offense holds the ball on long scoring drives while the defense gets off the field and gives them the ball back. It’s been a formula for success for a team with a rookie quarterback and a defense that was supposed to be its strength.

During the last couple of months, the Eagles have done just the opposite. The offense can’t stay on the field and the defense can’t get off of it.

When asked what happened from the 3-0 start to now, Pederson pointed toward right tackle Lane Johnson’s suspension, a few injuries and other teams having film on Wentz and their offense.

“It all just begins to snowball and obviously gets us in this situation,” Pederson said.

The situation the Eagles find themselves in is this: There are still four games left to play in the 2016 season whether they like it or not.  

“We still have a month of football left and three of the next four are division opponents,” Pederson said. “We’ve got some challenges. I told the guys in the locker room at the end of the game, this thing can go one of two ways and I only know the way it’s going to go. And that’s up. We just have to dig ourselves out of this hole and it starts next week.”

A couple of weeks ago, despite the losing, the Eagles were still in a very good position in terms of the playoff race. That has obviously changed. While not mathematically eliminated, the Eagles are a long shot, to put it mildly.  

Now, the season is about getting through while minimizing the damage, especially with several young players in key roles, specifically at the quarterback position.

“We learn from it, No. 1,” Pederson said. “And that’s the thing with young players, putting them in those situations right now. It’s just a learning experience for them. I just know this: it’s going to make us better with those players. It’s going to make us better. Again, we’ve got a month left and we’re going to continue to work hard.”

After the loss to the Packers six days ago, Pederson said it would be on him to make sure all of this didn’t spiral out of control.

And he seemed genuinely convinced it wouldn’t happen. But Sunday’s loss to the Bengals brought up similar questions about effort and brought back similar responses about each guy looking themselves in the mirror and correcting it.

Why is Pederson convinced the team is still all in?

“I can just go into that locker room and talk to each one individually and just look at their faces and see how they feel,” he said. “And they’re all dejected. That tells me enough right there, that we’re still together and they’re with everything that we’re doing. It’s going to be a great test for our leadership on the team. And the guys are going to have to rally, even the young guys. Everybody has to, myself included, we have to demand excellence. Is it going to be perfect all the time? No, it’s not. But you have to go in with enough pride and enough want-to that you want that perfection and nothing less than that.”

Not getting blown out next week at home against Washington would be a good place to start.