Confident De Fratus ready to return to majors

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Confident De Fratus ready to return to majors

ALLENTOWN, Pa. -- For a ballplayer, there can be no worse feeling than being demoted to the minors. But for Justin De Fratus, a righty who figured to have a role in the Phillies’ bullpen this season, being sent back to the minors was particularly tough.

With his hard slider and above-average fastball, De Fratus was ready to step into a meaningful role for Ryne Sandberg with the Phillies. The problem was Sandberg didn’t seem to trust De Fratus, using his just four times during the first month of the season.

“The season did not go how I planned and it did not go how the Phillies planned,” De Fratus said.

De Fratus, 26, didn’t give Sandberg much reason to go to him. In five innings in the big leagues, the right-hander allowed four runs on a pair of homers. One of those long balls came in an April 12 game against Giancarlo Stanton and the Marlins with the Phillies clinging to a narrow, two-run lead in the seventh inning.

That was De Fratus’ last game in the majors. It was also when he was forced to take a bit of personal inventory.  

“The answer I give is I never lost any confidence,” De Fratus said after Lehigh Valley’s 7-1 victory over Scranton/Wilkes-Barre on Thursday at Coca-Cola Park. “The thing was I had more confidence this year than any other year.”

There was no reason why De Fratus shouldn’t have felt confident. In parts of three seasons in the big leagues, De Fratus posted a 3.67 ERA in 76 games with 53 strikeouts in 61 1/3 innings. A hard thrower, De Fratus sometimes struggled with his command, issuing 33 walks. However, he was good at keeping the ball in the park, allowing just three homers and holding the opposition to a .236 batting average.

With those numbers it was easy to be optimistic about De Fratus holding down a significant role in the Phils’ 'pen. But when Sandberg didn’t use De Fratus in certain situations, one had to wonder how the pitcher was dealing with issue.

De Fratus figured out quickly that he was a mess mechanically.

“I was just lost mechanically,” De Fratus said. “I didn’t know what was going on or what was happening.”

The problem was De Fratus was watching and copying other pitchers. But what worked for others didn’t always work for him.

“I was watching too much of other pitchers, and you see pitchers do well and you try to emulate it and sometimes you forget what you do well,” De Fratus said. “Some of those things were unintentionally implemented and I got out of whack. I had to stop trying to be someone else and do what comes naturally. Once I came to that realization, it’s been back on track.”

Regaining his confidence as well as perspective about the demotion was a task the pitcher jumped into headfirst. His first order of business was to dig up video of his good outings to study how he pitched when things were going well. The idea, De Fratus said, was to get those performances “burned in my head.”

If De Fratus was lost when he was sent down, he found himself pretty quickly. In 12 games for Lehigh Valley, De Fratus has a 2.05 ERA with three saves, four holds and 11 strikeouts in 13 innings. Better yet, he’s allowed just three walks and is riding a six-game, seven-inning scoreless streak in which he’s given up just two hits and no walks.

He’s ready to get back to Philadelphia.

“Mentally I have a better understanding of what it takes to pitch [in the majors] and it’s just something I just had to go back and do some self reflection on my career and find some answers,” he said.

Still, even though the Phillies have the second-worst bullpen ERA in the National League, De Fratus isn’t campaigning to get his old job back. He’ll be back when the time is right.

“No one wants to be sent down, but I feel I’m ready and I’m back to a good spot mechanically,” De Fratus said.

Instant Replay: Phillies 8, Mariners 2

Instant Replay: Phillies 8, Mariners 2

BOX SCORE

SEATTLE -- Aaron Nola pitched well and Maikel Franco came up huge with his bat and his glove in leading the Phillies to an 8-2 win over the Seattle Mariners in an interleague game on Tuesday night.

Nola won his second straight start to improve to 5-5.

Franco gave Nola a 3-2 lead with a tiebreaking, leadoff homer in the top of the seventh then preserved the lead with a sensational diving play to end the bottom of the inning.

Freddy Galvis had three singles and drove in two important runs late in the game.

The win was just the Phillies' 11th in 42 games on the road this season. They are 25-51 overall.

Starting pitching report
Nola reached a career-high of 113 pitches over seven gutsy innings. He gave up five hits and two runs and got a bunch of big outs with men on base. He walked four and struck out nine.

Nola got out of jams with two men on base three times, including in the bottom of the seventh when he preserved a one-run lead by striking out Mike Zunino and getting Jean Segura on a ground ball to third. Franco made a tremendous diving play on the ball to end the inning and prevent the tying run from scoring.

Nola has won two straight starts. He has pitched 14 1/3 innings over that span, allowed just three runs and racked up 17 strikeouts.

Lefty James Paxton did not give up a hit until the fifth inning. He allowed three runs in seven innings of work. He gave up Franco's go-ahead homer.

Bullpen report
Joaquin Benoit pitched a scoreless eighth inning to preserve a two-run lead.

The Seattle bullpen allowed five runs in two innings.

At the plate
Franco ignited a game-tying, two-run rally in the top of the fifth. He led off that inning with a double, the Phillies' first hit. Cameron Perkins followed with an infield hit and Cameron Rupp drew a walk. The Phillies then scored a pair of runs on consecutive sacrifice fly balls by Ty Kelly and Daniel Nava. Galvis followed with a single and third-base coach Juan Samuel got a little too aggressive in sending Rupp from second base. Rupp was cut down at the plate.

Franco's go-ahead homer in the seventh was his 10th of the season. Galvis pushed home an insurance run in the eighth. He followed Nava's leadoff double with an RBI single. Galvis drove home another run with a hit in the top of the ninth and Aaron Altherr put it out of reach with a two-run homer, his 13th of the season.

Segura smacked a two-run homer in the third to give the Mariners a 2-0 lead.

In the field
Franco made a diving stab on Segura's smash down the third-base line to end the seventh inning and keep the Phils up by a run.

A night off
Odubel Herrera, he of several recent miscues and lapses in concentration, did not start Tuesday night. Manager Pete Mackanin said it was night off, not a benching. Herrera said he has to start playing smarter baseball (see story).

Health check
Jerad Eickhoff, on the disabled list with an upper-back strain, will throw a bullpen session on Wednesday. That will help determine if he's ready to return in the coming days.

Up next
The two-game series concludes on Wednesday afternoon. Rookie right-hander Mark Leiter Jr. (1-0, 3.60) pitches against Mariners ace Felix Hernandez (3-2, 4.68). Leiter pitched six scoreless innings in his first big-league start Friday in Arizona.

Scott Kingery pops 2 homers in second game with Triple A Lehigh Valley

Scott Kingery pops 2 homers in second game with Triple A Lehigh Valley

Scott Kingery's power didn't take long to transition to Triple A.

In his second game since being promoted from Double A to the IronPigs, the Phillies' second base prospect belted two homers in Lehigh Valley's 14-5 loss to Pawtucket on Tuesday night.

Arguably the most exciting player on the Phillies' farm this season, Kingery caught everyone's attention by blasting 18 home runs in 69 games at Reading. That, along with a .313/.379/.608 batting line and 19 stolen bases, earned him a highly anticipated jump to Triple A and Coca-Cola Park, home of the IronPigs.

"It looks like you can get one out to left," Kingery said ahead of his Triple A debut on Monday. "But it looks real deep to center."

Kingery was right — both of his shots Tuesday went to left field. He finished 2 for 5 with three RBIs in the leadoff spot for Lehigh Valley, hitting in front of a loaded lineup of J.P. Crawford, Jorge Alfaro, Dylan Cozens, Nick Williams and Andrew Pullin.

The IronPigs are an International League-best 49-29 and that should only improve with Kingery now in the fold.

"I know what I'm capable of and I know what I need to improve on," Kingery said Monday. "Wherever I'm at, I'm going to come out here and try to work on whatever I think I need to improve on and to give myself the best shot to get moved up."

In his debut, Kingery made a dazzling, over-the-head diving catch that was featured on ESPN's SportsCenter (see story).

On Tuesday, he was back to the long ball.