Jake Diekman looks to chew up hitters in 2014

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Jake Diekman looks to chew up hitters in 2014

CLEARWATER, Fla. – Phillies reliever Jake Diekman used a performance-enhancing substance in 2013.

Relax. It was completely legal.

“This is the stuff,” Diekman said.

He pointed to a box of Dubble Bubble chewing gum that was sitting on a table in the Phillies’ spring-training clubhouse.

“I can’t chew anything else,” he said. “I grab about 20 pieces and stuff them in my pocket before going to the bullpen.”

In the dark season of 2013, Diekman was a bright spot. The hard-throwing lefty sidearmer developed the four Cs of relief pitching -- composure, control, confidence and cojones -- and is on everyone’s list of potential difference makers as the Phillies look to end a two-year playoff drought and get back to the postseason in 2014.

It seems as if every successful big-leaguer can point to a time in his career when everything began to click. For Diekman, the click happened Aug. 19 when he channeled the anger caused by a blown umpiring call into a 99-mph fastball and a game-saving strikeout.

Diekman, 27, believes he was able to harness his emotion that night because the game stopped moving in fast-forward for him last season.

He credits his performance-enhancing substance for that.

Last spring training, Diekman began chewing bubble gum when he pitched. He got away from it for a while then started doing it again during side work at Lehigh Valley.

Over time, he realized something. His focus and concentration improved when he chewed gum. Everything seemed to slow down and become more manageable. He was still in the high-speed lane of major-league baseball, but no longer did it feel as if everything was whizzing past him.

“For some reason, it makes me think less,” Diekman said. “I think I’m conscious of not chomping on the gum so I don’t look like a horse on TV. It slows everything down for me. At least it feels like it does.”

Though not scientifically proven, there are theories that suggest chewing gum can increase oxygen to the brain and therefore improve alertness and concentration.

Diekman is a believer.

“I don’t get super sped-up anymore,” he said. “Now it feels weird if I don’t pitch with gum. I threw my first bullpen here this spring without it and I was lost.”

While Phillies officials will gladly provide Diekman with all the bubble gum he needs if it means he pitches well, the biggest reason the game slowed down for him last season can be boiled down to one word.

Experience.

Diekman pitched in 32 games in 2012, his rookie season, and 29 more last season before he heard the click on Aug. 19. He had just come into a one-run game in the eighth inning against Colorado at Citizens Bank Park. There were two outs and runners on first and second when umpire Jim Joyce called Diekman for a balk. The next day, Joyce told Phillies manager Ryne Sandberg that he was wrong to have called the balk. But that didn’t help Diekman at the time. The balk call put runners at second and third with the game on the line.

Seething inside, Diekman turned his fury into a weapon. He blew a 99-mph fastball by Nolan Arenado to end the Rockies’ threat and help propel the Phillies to a win.

“I got (ticked) off,” Diekman said. “A base hit would have lost us the lead. I just said to myself, ‘Go right at him. Attack the hitter.’

“When you first get called up to the big leagues, you have to know you’re here for a reason. You have to believe that you can pitch here. That was the turning point for me. After the balk, I felt like, ‘I can pitch up here.’ I felt like I pitched with fire after that.”

Fire and bubble gum.

After the balk game, Diekman made 15 more appearances out of the bullpen for the Phillies last season. In 14 innings, he allowed just six hits and one run. He struck out 17 and walked four.

That finish is a big reason Phillies officials believe Diekman can be a force this season.

Of course, Diekman would not even be here if it weren’t for a stab-in-the-dark delivery change suggested by minor-league pitching coach Bob Milacki in the summer of 2009. At the time, Diekman was in low Single A ball. He threw straight over the top and was pretty much headed nowhere. During a bullpen session, Milacki suggested Diekman try throwing sidearm. The pitcher was put on the disabled list so he could practice the new delivery.

“I got put on the phantom DL to work on it,” he said. “It was the worst experience of my life. Shin contusion. I had to fake being hurt for two weeks and it sucked.”

Turns out the worst experience of Diekman’s life changed his life. For the better. The new arm angle added deception to his delivery and velocity to his fastball. He went from the low 90s on the radar gun to the high 90s. His career took off.

“I’d be home somewhere if I didn’t make the change,” he said.

Along with his blazing fastball, Diekman has a power slider and he’s working hard on his changeup this spring. It’s not difficult to envision Diekman closing games somewhere down the road. He certainly has the stuff. But for now, he will be asked to get important outs in the seventh and eighth innings.

“It doesn’t matter what they ask me to do,” Diekman said. “I just want to pitch.”

And when he does, you can be sure he’ll be chewing bubble gum.

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.