TAMPA -- Unless something unforeseen occurs, the back end of the Phillies’ bullpen is set. Jonathan Papelbon is going to close and Mike Adams is going to set things up in the eighth.
But what about the seventh inning?
It seems that lefty Antonio Bastardo is first in line to pitch if Adams or Papelbon need a night off, which leaves a spot for a durable, big arm. Is this an opening for righthanded reliever Phillippe Aumont?
“He has to make the team first,” pitching coach Rich Dubee said.
Yes he does, but that could just be the pitching coach hoping to keep the young pitcher on his toes. But for the second time this spring during Friday’s 10-5 victory over the Yankees at George M. Steinbrenner Field (see story), Aumont threw a scoreless inning.
In this one, Aumont threw 11 of his 12 pitches for strikes and reached 95-mph on the radar gun. He allowed a hit and notched a strikeout and even turned a few heads of those who have a say in whether or not he’ll make the team when the Phillies head north in April.
One of those guys with final say, manager Charlie Manuel, believes Aumont is just beginning to scratch the surface.
“He has the size and his mechanics on the mound make it easy,” Manuel said about Aumont’s fastball velocity. “He has more there. Every once in a while I want to see him get mad and show how much he’s got. Seriously, there’s more in there.”
Aumont did quite well in some on-the-job training last September. In 18 appearances covering 14 2/3 innings, Aumont got 14 strikeouts and a serious education. On Sept. 9, he pitched in both ends of a double-header against the Rockies, which gave him three appearances in two days. Following a day off, Aumont was back on the mound for three straight days. He repeated the feat again later in the month by going in three straight games.
Aumont stood up to the heavy workload as the Phillies were making a late dash for the second wild-card spot.
“I think he has the chance to be really good. Pitching him down here, any time he gets out there is good experience for him,” Manuel said. “And when the season starts, it might take him a little while, but as the season goes along, I think he has a chance to be very special.”
With a berth on the Canadian team in this month’s World Baseball Classic, Aumont took the lessons he learned late last season and tried to build off them by beginning his spring throwing program three weeks early.
So far the 6-foot-7, 260-pound pitcher has stood up well to the advanced workload.
“I had a few under my belt before I showed up,” Aumont said. “Right away, I started working on command and all of that stuff. It wasn't just, ‘OK, I just need to get the arm going.’ I knew I needed to get it going. And, so far, so good.”
Friday’s game against the Yankees will be Aumont’s last for the Phillies for a while. On Saturday, Aumont heads off to join Team Canada in the World Baseball Classic where he hopes to use the experience to put him in position to win a job with the Phillies.
Yes, Aumont wants to win for Canada, but he’d prefer to win more for the Phillies.
“I'm still not trying to be ready right now,” Aumont said. “I'm just trying to take it gradually throughout the spring. I have to be ready for the tournament. It’s not the important stuff, but still you have pride when you get on the field for your country. The adrenaline will kick in. But my priority is to come back healthy and compete for a job.”