Aumont turning heads in fight for bullpen job

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Aumont turning heads in fight for bullpen job

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.”

Phillies 10, Blue Jays 3: Jeremy Hellickson limbers up, offense continues to hit

Phillies 10, Blue Jays 3: Jeremy Hellickson limbers up, offense continues to hit

DUNEDIN, Fla. — Jeremy Hellickson did not shine in his spring debut Sunday, but he didn’t have to.

Hellickson projects to be the Phillies' opening day starter for the second straight year, but with five weeks to go before it all starts for real in Cincinnati, he has plenty of time to put a coat of polish on his game.

The right-hander knocked off some wintertime rust with two innings of work against the Toronto Blue Jays. He gave up four hits and two runs, walked one and did not strike out a batter.

"I felt great," Hellickson said. "I wasn't really commanding the fastball like I wanted, but my arm and my body felt good."

Hellickson went 12-10 with a 3.71 ERA in 32 starts for the Phillies last season and could have opted for free agency in the offseason. However, he surveyed the marketplace and determined he'd be better off taking the Phillies' qualifying offer of $17.2 million for 2017 and trying his luck on the free-agent market next season.

So he's betting on himself.

"That's kind of how I'm looking at it," he said. "It was easy to do that just with the way I felt last year. I think I can definitely repeat or exceed what I did last year."

The Phillies can't give Hellickson another qualifying offer after this season so it's quite possible they will look to deal him in July. But that won't necessarily be easy. The Phils had talks with a number of teams about Hellickson last July and were unable to consummate a deal. It will be tougher this July as Hellickson’s salary has jumped by $10 million. The Phillies may have to eat some of that salary to get a deal they like.

Hellickson was asked if he was ready for another summer of trade rumors.

"No," he said with a wry smile. "But I know it's coming."

He's holding out hope that the Phillies will play their way into contention and the front office keeps the rotation together. He believes it's possible.

"I think we have a really good team here," he said. "Hopefully we're the ones trading for guys at the deadline.

"I've been reading some stuff saying (Aaron) Nola is a No. 5 guy. If Nola's your No. 5 guy, you have a pretty good rotation. I definitely think one through five we can give six, seven, eight strong innings every time out. Then with the guys, we signed for the back of our bullpen, it'll make our jobs that much easier. The days we don't have it, I feel like we can hand it off to those guys after five or six. We're in pretty good shape."

The game
The Phillies beat the Jays, 10-3, on the strength of 13 hits and three Toronto errors. The Phils had eight hits in Saturday’s win over the Yankees.

Cam Perkins, Pedro Florimon and Daniel Nava all had two hits. Rhys Hoskins and Ryan Hanigan both walked twice. Andres Blanco homered. Brock Stassi doubled. Nick Williams had a hit, two RBIs and a walk. Power-hitting rightfielder Dylan Cozens stole two bases.

Cozens is a legitimate stolen-base threat. In addition to belting 40 homers at Double A Reading last season, he swiped 21 bags and was only caught once.

"You've got to like his tools," manager Pete Mackanin said. "He's really an athletic guy. He's got good hands at the plate. I think he's going to hit because he doesn't have a lot of excess body movement. He hits a lot with his hands and I think in time he'll cut down on the strikeouts and he'll be an even better player. He looks like a solid defender, good hitting ability, a lot of power and some speed."

On the mound
Ben Lively and Alberto Tirado both pitched two scoreless innings and Pat Neshek and Michael Mariot had one each.

Up next
Jerad Eikchoff makes his spring debut when the Phillies host the Tampa Bay Rays on Monday afternoon.

Clay Buchholz will get the start Tuesday against Baltimore.

Phillies prospect Nick Pivetta has long-awaited meeting with Roy Halladay

Phillies prospect Nick Pivetta has long-awaited meeting with Roy Halladay

CLEARWATER, Fla. -- Phillies pitching prospect Nick Pivetta had one of those pinch-me moments Saturday.

He met his boyhood idol, Roy Halladay, at a charity event.

Someone had filled in Halladay that Pivetta had grown up in Canada and had regularly watched Toronto Blue Jays games on television. Pivetta loved watching Halladay pitch, as he talked about a few weeks ago here.

"I got to briefly shake his hand," Pivetta said Sunday morning. "He knew I was like a stalker. He said, 'Oh, right, you're the guy from British Columbia.'"

Halladay, who pitched for the Phils from 2010 to 2013, lives in the Clearwater area. Pivetta said he expected to speak more with Halladay in the coming days.

Halladay was honored at the 44th annual Clearwater For Youth banquet and Pivetta attended with a number of his teammates and Phillies officials. Phillies chairman David Montgomery and his wife Lyn were also honored for their charitable works.

Pivetta will pitch for Team Canada in the World Baseball Classic in March.