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.”

Pete Mackanin maintains positive outlook even though Phillies now have worst record in majors

Pete Mackanin maintains positive outlook even though Phillies now have worst record in majors

BOX SCORE

On the surface, it might appear that the Phillies were done in by one bad inning on Wednesday night. After all, they suffered a 7-2 loss at Citizens Bank Park and the visiting Colorado Rockies scored all of their runs in one hellacious burst in the third inning (see Instant Replay).

But there was more to the loss than just one poor inning by starting pitcher Jeremy Hellickson. The Phillies came to the plate in nine innings against the Rockies pitchers and managed hits in only two of them while finishing the game with just three. It was the third time in the last four games — all losses — that the Phillies have mustered just three (expletive deleted) hits. Through the first seven innings in this one, they were out-hit, 11-1.

"Well, once again, three hits," manager Pete Mackanin said afterward. "Not a whole lot of good to talk about."

No, there wasn't. Hasn't been for a while. The Phillies have lost five in a row, 9 of 10 and 20 of their last 24 games. Wednesday night's loss left them with the worst record in the majors at 15-29.

"There's a lot of baseball left, and I know we're better than this," Mackanin said. "We just have to have some kind of spark to get out of it. Win a couple in a row and it could put us on a winning streak."

It's not going to be easy to start the winning streak in Thursday's series finale against Colorado. The Rockies have the best record in the National League at 31-17 and they have outscored the Phillies, 23-5, in the first three games of the series.

That's a serious beating.

"They have some really good hitters in that lineup and it's a deep lineup, too," Hellickson said. "There are no easy outs."

Conversely, there have been many easy outs in the Phillies' lineup in this series. The Phils did not get their first hit Wednesday night until Andrew Knapp singled with two outs in the fifth inning. The Rockies' starting pitchers in this series have held the Phils to two runs in 20 innings. And two of those pitchers were rookies, Jeff Hoffman and German Marquez. Tyler Chatwood pitched seven shutout innings Wednesday night.

The Phillies' starting pitching in the month of May has been brutal. Phillies starters have a 6.39 ERA in the month, second worst in baseball over that span.

The team is 4-17 in the month.

"It's been kind of surprising," Mackanin said of the rotation's problems this month. "I know they're better than that. We're going to put something together. I believe that."

Hellickson went 4-0 with a 1.80 ERA in five starts in April. He's been a different pitcher in May. His ERA in the month is a hefty 7.30 in five starts. The difference in the months: Hellickson located his finesse repertoire down in the strike zone in April. He's been up in the zone in May. On Wednesday night, Rockies hitters fought off his middling fastball and didn't miss his soft stuff because it was up. Carlos Gonzalez had the big hit against Hellickson in the Rockies' seven-run third. He jumped out of his shoes to hack at a 2-1 changeup and hit it for a three-run home run.

"He had poor command of his changeup," Mackanin said. "He was yanking his changeup, not locating it. That's his out pitch. He didn't have it tonight.

"He's had a lot of good starts for us. When he doesn't locate, he gives up a run here or there, but he kind of gets it back. For that one inning, it fell apart on him."

Hellickson allowed eight baserunners on six hits and two walks in the Rockies' seven-run third inning. He gave up a double, a triple, a homer and three singles in the frame.

"I beat myself that inning by falling behind and walking too many," the pitcher said. "When I did make a good pitch, they found a way to get hits off those, too."

This is the third straight season that the Phillies have endured a 4-20 stretch.

"It's not easy," Hellickson said. "It's not fun. It's just something you deal with. It's not fun."

During this stretch, Mackanin has benched his cleanup hitter, Maikel Franco (see story). Otherwise, he has kept his sanity.

"I remember when I took over in '15, the team was scuffling, really not playing well," Mackanin said. "Then something clicked and we started beating teams. Last year, we had a good first part of the season and then kind of scuffled at the end. Sometimes one little thing clicks and you get better.

"In a long season, these things sometimes happen. I remember Atlanta, the first half last year, was terrible. They had a real good second half. I believe we just need to get something going. We're going to put something together. I believe that."

Best of MLB: Chris Sale misses strikeout record, but Red Sox rally for win

Best of MLB: Chris Sale misses strikeout record, but Red Sox rally for win

BOSTON -- Dustin Pedroia waved home the tiebreaking run on a wild pitch, then singled in two more during Boston's seven-run seventh inning on Wednesday night and the Red Sox beat the Texas Rangers 9-4 for their third straight victory.

Chris Sale (5-2) struck out six, falling short in his attempt to become the first pitcher in baseball's modern era to strike out at least 10 batters in nine straight games in one season. He allowed three earned runs, six hits and a walk in 7 1/3 innings and received more runs of support in the seventh inning alone than in any previous game this season.

Sam Dyson (1-5) faced seven batters in relief of Martin Perez and gave up four hits, three walks -- two intentional -- and a wild pitch without retiring a batter. Mike Napoli homered for Texas, which has lost three of four to follow a 10-game winning streak (see full recap).

Ellsbury hurt as Yankees blank Royals
NEW YORK -- Helped by a great first-inning catch that forced center fielder Jacoby Ellsbury from the game with a concussion and sprained neck, Luis Severino won for the first time in a month and led the New York Yankees over the Kansas City Royals 3-0 on Wednesday night.

On the first pitch of the game, Ellsbury sprinted 107 feet and raised his glove above his head to catch Alcides Escobar's fly. Ellsbury's head jarred into the wall as the ball landed in his glove, and he crumpled to the field.

Ellsbury was checked by manager Joe Girardi and head athletic trainer Steve Donohue and remained in the game, then was replaced by Aaron Hicks starting the second.

Didi Gregorius homered against Jason Hammel (1-6) leading off the third inning, Gregorius' seventh hit in a span of 12 at-bats.

His fastball reaching 99 mph, Severino (3-2) allowed four hits over eight innings, struck out seven, walked one and threw a career-high 114 pitches.

Dellin Betances struck out the side in a perfect ninth for his fourth save (see full recap).

Rendon, Roark help Nationals beat Mariners
WASHINGTON -- Anthony Rendon hit a three-run homer for his eighth of the season, Tanner Roark allowed a run over seven innings and the Washington Nationals defeated the Seattle Mariners 5-1 on Wednesday night.

Rendon has three homers and eight RBIs in the Nationals' two victories to open this three-game series.

Roark (4-2) completed seven innings for the first time in seven starts and held the Mariners to 1 for 7 with runners in scoring position.

Mariners rookie Sam Gaviglio (0-1) allowed all five runs -- one earned -- over six innings as the Mariners lost their fifth straight.

Seattle's Robinson Cano went 3 for 4, including an RBI single and a double that center fielder Michael Taylor's glove prevented from being a home run.

Rendon had gone 12 games without an RBI before the series. But after driving in five runs Tuesday, he drove in three more to help Washington grab a 4-1 lead in the bottom of the first (see full recap).