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.

Best of NBA: DeRozan scores career-high 43 points in Raptors' win

Best of NBA: DeRozan scores career-high 43 points in Raptors' win

TORONTO -- DeMar DeRozan scored a career-high 43 points and the Toronto Raptors rallied from a 17-point deficit to beat the Boston Celtics 107-97 on Friday night.

DeRozan shot 15 of 28 from the floor as he surpassed his 42-point effort against the Houston Rockets on March 30, 2015, helping the Raptors overcome the absence of fellow All-Star Kyle Lowry. Lowry sat out with a right wrist injury.

Serge Ibaka, acquired by trade from the Orlando Magic last week, scored 15 points in his debut, while fellow newcomer P.J. Tucker, picked up from the Phoenix Suns on Thursday, had a game-high 10 rebounds and nine points in his first game for his new team.

Isaiah Thomas scored 20 points for Boston, which also got 19 points each from Jae Crowder and Marcus Smart (see full recap).

Westbrook triple-double lifts Thunder over Lakers
OKLAHOMA CITY -- Russell Westbrook scored 17 points in his 28th triple-double of the season, and his new teammates fit in seamlessly as the Oklahoma City Thunder defeated the Los Angeles Lakers 110-93 on Friday night.

Westbrook also had 18 rebounds and 17 assists for the 65th triple-double of his career.

It was the first game for new Thunder players Taj Gibson and Doug McDermott, acquired Thursday in a trade with the Chicago Bulls. Gibson scored 12 points and McDermott added eight, even though they arrived Thursday night and weren't even available for shootaround on Friday.

Alex Abrines and Andre Roberson each set a career high with 19 points, and Steven Adams added 15 points and 10 rebounds for the Thunder.

D'Angelo Russell scored 29 for the Lakers (see full recap).

Pacers beat Grizzlies to snap six-game skid
INDIANAPOLIS -- CJ Miles made five 3-pointers and scored 17 points, Paul George had nine points and nine rebounds after remaining with Indiana following the trade deadline, and the Pacers snapped a six-game losing streak with a 102-92 victory over the Memphis Grizzlies on Friday night.

Monta Ellis finished with 16 points, Myles Turner scored 12, and Lavoy Allen, Jeff Teague and Thaddeus Young each added 10 for the Pacers.

The Pacers outscored the Grizzlies 64-42 across the middle two quarters and never relinquished their lead, leading by as many as 27 points in the second half. The Grizzlies finished the game shooting 41 percent from the floor (35 for 84).

Troy Daniels had 13 points for Memphis and Marc Gasol scored 12. Indiana outrebounded Memphis 50-39 and scored 29 points off 17 Grizzlies turnovers (see full recap).

Thrust into bigger role, Sixers' Holmes stars in win over Wizards

Thrust into bigger role, Sixers' Holmes stars in win over Wizards

BOX SCORE

For as much as the Sixers’ bigs are talked about, Richaun Holmes often is left out of the conversation. 

He’s not the centerpiece of the team like Joel Embiid nor was he heavily involved in trade talks like Nerlens Noel and Jahlil Okafor. He is the backup center who bides his time on the bench and quietly stays ready when he gets the nod.

And on Friday, he was the standout player in the Sixers’ 120-112 win over the Wizards (see Instant Replay)

“He’s been sort of the person that people forget about because of the logjam of five men,” Brett Brown said. “We all sort of think, ‘Well, he should just accept it because he’s behind Joel and Nerlens and Jahlil. Good ol’ Richaun. Go to the D-League and it’s OK.’ And that doesn’t work. He’s a pro, he’s competitive. He’s handled it. He’s really been a wonderful teammate.”

Holmes was bumped up in the rotation following the trade of Noel to the Mavs. He moved into the second-unit role while Okafor started in place of the injured Embiid. 

Holmes recorded his first double-double with 12 points (6 for 9 from the field) and 10 rebounds (three offensive). He also blocked a career-high five shots, tying Embiid for the most by a Sixer this season. The second-year big man put together this impressive performance in 26 minutes off the bench. 

“Just play hard,” Holmes said of his approach. “Just go out there, show what you’ve been working on, play hard every second you’re out there. That’s the motto I’ve got.”

Holmes is averaging 16.1 minutes and has appeared in just 32 of the Sixers’ 57 games. This season he also spent time with the Delaware 87ers of the Development League to get playing time. Holmes embraced an opportunity similar to Friday’s a month ago when he scored 18 points in as many minutes against the Clippers. 

“I try to approach every game this season the same way, whether everybody was playing or people were hurt,” Holmes said. “Prepare like I’m going to play 30 minutes a game. I think having that mindset helped me to stay ready at all times and be aggressive when I had a chance.”

Brown did not rule out the possibility that Holmes could start at some point if he continues this production. The Sixers are limiting Okafor to 20 to 24 minutes per game, according to Brown. That, combined with Embiid’s injury, could lend itself to an increased role for Holmes. 

“I think in that environment, it wouldn’t seem out of the ordinary for Richaun to get a start from time to time,” Brown said. 

Even if he remains on the second unit, Holmes proved he can provide a spark off the bench. Dario Saric noted how Holmes’ impact on both ends of the floor bolsters the frontcourt in addition to a more offensively-minded Okafor (11 points, two rebounds). 

“I think he played unbelievably good in both ways,” Saric said. “Everybody knows he’s an elite guy finishing around the rim, and he stepped in Nerlens’ place, he replaced him unbelievably good. I hope he will get the same minutes for the next game because we have Jahlil, who is more like a post-up player, who likes more to score from the low-post block, and we for sure need some guy like Richaun who will play in both ways." 

Perhaps the person least surprised by Holmes' game was Holmes himself. It was the result he puts in long hours to produce.

“It’s all about the grind,” he said. “All about keep working, keep trying to move up, keep trying to get better every second and it’ll pay off.”