Ken Giles turning heads with his heat in Reading

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Ken Giles turning heads with his heat in Reading

READING, Pa. — Throw a baseball 100 mph and people will take notice.

Throw a baseball 100 mph while pitching in an organization in which the relief pitchers have had a rough start to the season and people will really take notice.

For Double A Reading relief pitcher Ken Giles, the fastball is making a lot of people take notice this season. But then again, Giles says his fastball has always made folks sit up and take notice. During Monday night’s game against the Giants' affiliate, the Double A Richmond Flying Squirrels at First Energy Stadium, Giles hit 100 mph on the stadium radar gun on his first two pitches.

Just to show he wasn’t kidding around, Giles fired one up there at 101 mph during his two innings on the mound.

You know, just in case they weren’t paying attention.

“It was good to go out there and really let loose,” Giles said.

Giles has been cutting loose with his right arm for a little while now. In fact, like a basketball player remembering his first dunk, Giles can recall the first time he ever threw a baseball 100 mph. It was during his sophomore year at Yavapai College in Prescott, Ariz. when Giles first hit triple digits and he has been letting it go ever since.

“That’s when it all started,” Giles said.

Maybe it started before that. Even when he was a little leaguer, Giles wanted to be a reliever. More specifically, he wanted to be a closer. To come into a game in the heat of the battle with the game on the line is when he thrives, Giles said, and there is nothing like a challenge.

“I was born to be a reliever,” he said. “Since Day 1 I knew I was going to be a reliever. I never was going to be the stud pitcher. When I was young I always wanted to be a closer or a reliever -- a go-to guy.

“I love that role, I like to be challenged. I could come in for the fifth in a tight ballgame, I’m more than happy to do that. But I like it when it’s really challenging -- I want to be the first guy out of that 'pen.”

For Reading, Giles has been thrown into the tough roles. He has used the heater to notch 18 strikeouts in nine innings with three walks and two hits in seven appearances. He has notched five saves this season and has not allowed an earned run.

On Thursday night, Giles allowed his second hit of the season, which counts as news for the righty these days. After getting a quick 0-2 count on Angel Villalona with those back-to-back 100 mph pitches, Giles threw his 88 mph slider. Villalona, looking for the heat, got out in front of it and dropped it in to left field for a single.

From there, Giles retired the final six batters he faced, picking up two strikeouts and getting a chance to work on his slider. If there is one facet of his repertoire Giles wants to work on this season, it’s his secondary pitches ... make that secondary pitch.

“When guys are fouling stuff off and we know they’re trying to ambush me, it’s a go-to pitch,” Giles said. “I have a good feeling to it and it's a pretty tough pitch to hit.”

It needs some work, though. Reading manager Dusty Wathan said Giles' stats look good in the box score, but his fastball and slider need some fine-tuning. Considering that Giles appeared in only 24 games for Class A Clearwater last season, the game action can only help him.

Besides, when everyone knows what a pitcher is going to throw, it better be a pretty good pitch.

“He threw his slider a bit tonight -- he has to. Big-league hitters can hit 100 mile per hour fastballs if you don’t locate them,” Wathan said. “It’s all about locating his fastball and developing his slider and being able to throw it in-and-out when he needs to.”

As far as his physical location this season, Giles isn’t looking to join the Phillies any time soon. Though the Phillies' relievers have the worst ERA (5.80) in the majors, and a guy with a 100 mph fastball and 88 mph slider might be a great asset for the late innings, the 23-year-old is biding his time.

Yes, the call to the big leagues would be nice, but there are things to do down on the farm, first.

“I’m focused on right here and being here and doing what I need to do,” Giles said. “I’m just getting ready for whenever they need me.”

Besides, Giles' teammates with Reading won't allow him to get too far ahead of himself. Since most of the organization's top prospects are playing for Reading, Giles has done a pretty good job of blending in.

Even with that 100 mph fastball.

“We’re all goofy enough here so [a call to the big leagues] never pops into my mind,” he said.

Not yet, anyway.

Blue Jays 10, Phillies 4: Aaron Nola hit hard in final Grapefruit start

Blue Jays 10, Phillies 4: Aaron Nola hit hard in final Grapefruit start

CLEARWATER, Fla. -- The Phillies got the good health they were looking for from Aaron Nola this spring.

But the overall results weren't so good.

Nola struggled in his sixth and final Grapefruit League start Tuesday night. He was roughed up for seven hits, including two home runs, and five runs and did not make it out of the second inning in the Phillies' 10-4 loss to the Toronto Blue Jays.

Nola finished the Grapefruit League portion of his spring with an ERA of 8.38 after giving up 18 earned runs in 19 1/3 innings. He gave up 28 hits, walked seven and struck out 23.

"People say it's spring training but nobody wants to go out there and give up runs," Nola said.

While he wasn't happy with the numbers he put up in camp, Nola was pleased with his health. He missed the final two months of last season with an elbow strain. He said that is completely behind him.

"I feel good," he said. "The ball is coming out of my hand really good.

"Tonight was the best I've felt all spring. I just left some balls up and they took some good swings. It was a tough night."

Manager Pete Mackanin weighed in on Nola's spring.

"One thing I like is that his velocity is way up," Mackanin said. "I think his arm is healthy and that's good to see more than anything.

"He hasn't shown the command that makes him a good pitcher, but I think that will get there."

Nola gave up home runs to Troy Tulowitzki and Melvin Upton Jr.

Nola lines up to pitch the fifth game of the regular season a week from Saturday in Philadelphia.

He only threw 51 pitches Tuesday night so he has room for a good bullpen session and another start before that outing. The start will come at the minor-league complex on Sunday. He will then join the team in Cincinnati for Monday's season opener.

Murray injured
Reliever Colton Murray ran his scoreless string to 10 1/3 innings before allowing a two-run homer in his third inning of work. Murray left the game with what looked like a lower back injury. He fell to the ground in pain after throwing a pitch. Earlier in the day, Murray was told that he would open the season in Triple A.

Minor matters 
Infielder Cole Stobbe, 19, the Phillies' third-round pick in last year's draft, and 18-year-old righty Sixto Sanchez were named winners of the Bill Giles and Larry Rojas awards for their standout work in minor-league camp. Both are among the organization's most highly touted young prospects.

Up next
The Phillies will split the squad and play two games on Wednesday. One team will go to Lakeland to play the Tigers. The other will go to Bradenton to face the Pirates.

The battle for one of the final spots in the bullpen will take center stage as Luis Garcia starts in Lakeland and Joely Rodriguez in Bradenton.

Brock Stassi appears headed for big leagues as Phillies' roster comes into focus

Brock Stassi appears headed for big leagues as Phillies' roster comes into focus

CLEARWATER, Fla. -- Busy, busy day of roster moves in Phillies camp.

Let's try to put it all in perspective.

First, the facts:

Veteran infielder/outfielder Chris Coghlan was released from his minor-league contract.

Right-handed pitcher Alec Asher was traded to the Baltimore Orioles for a player to be named later or cash.

Infielder Pedro Florimon and relief pitchers Cesar Ramos, Hoby Milner, Pat Venditte and Colton Murray were all informed that they will not make the opening-day roster, but they remain in big-league camp as non-roster invitees.

OK, what does it all mean?

Let's start on the position-player side. The starting eight is set, but there are still openings to fill on the bench before the team's charter flight lifts off from Tampa International Airport early Friday evening.

Barring something unforeseen, infielder Andres Blanco, outfielder Aaron Altherr and catcher Andrew Knapp will all make the 25-man roster. That leaves two openings on the bench.

Coghlan, a former National League Rookie of the Year and member of last year's World Series-winning Chicago Cubs team, asked for his release after the club raised the possibility of him signing an advance consent form. Advanced consent gives a team more control of a player and also allows a team to release a player with no further financial commitment up to 45 days into the season. Coghlan decided to move on, as was his contractual right, and is expected to land with another club.

Coghlan's departure reduced the field of candidates for the two bench jobs to three -- Brock Stassi, Daniel Nava and Jesmuel Valentin.

All signs point to lefty-hitting first baseman/outfielder Brock Stassi being rewarded for his excellent spring with a spot on the roster. The 27-year-old from the Sacramento area, the team's 33rd-round draft pick in 2011, has never played in the majors.

With Stassi looking good, the final spot on the bench is down to Nava and Valentin. They are two very different players. Nava is 34 and has five years of big-league service time. He is in camp on a minor-league deal, essentially looking to keep his career alive. Valentin, on the other hand, is 22 and very much a prospect. The team must decide if it wants to go with the veteran outfielder or the young second baseman for the final spot on the bench.

"With the way Stassi, Nava and Valentin are playing right now, one way or another we're going to be making tough decisions on the bench," general manager Matt Klentak said.

With Asher off the 40-man roster, the Phillies have the space to add Stassi.

They would need to create one more spot, probably by waiving a player, if they want to keep Nava.

Valentin is already on the 40-man roster so the team would not have to lose a player to keep him, but doing that would cost the young player the development opportunity that would come with regular at-bats in Triple A.

"I'm not opposed to starting that way if he wins the job and that's how we open," Klentak said of Valentin. "If we concluded after a few weeks that playing time just isn't there and we need to send him back down and get somebody else up, we can do that. That's the beauty of roster flexibility and having players on the big-league club with options. We can make those decisions in real time throughout the year."

So let's move on to the bullpen.

Five spots are set with Jeanmar Gomez, Hector Neris, Edubray Ramos, Joaquin Benoit and Pat Neshek.

It's likely that the team will go with seven relievers. That means there are two open spots with three candidates -- Adam Morgan, Joely Rodriguez and Luis Garica -- still standing. All three are on the 40-man roster, so that makes the personnel mechanics a little easier. 

The team probably needs a long reliever and Morgan profiles as that guy.

Rodriguez and Garcia are both scheduled to pitch in separate games on Wednesday, so their performances will be worth watching, though Klentak said not all roster decisions are based on spring performance. 

Garcia has had a number of chances in the majors the last four seasons. He has recently added a splitter and team officials are intrigued by that, so he has remained in the mix.

There is a slim chance the team could carry all three of these relievers and go with an eight-man bullpen and a short bench, but that would be tough to do in the National League. When the decisions are made, look for a five-man bench and a seven-man bullpen.

But, remember, things can change quickly on a 25-man roster once the season begins. Ender Inciarte was on the Phillies' opening-day roster in 2013 and gone a day later. Cedric Hunter was there last year and gone two weeks later.

"We have to make sure we're disciplined to the notion that the end of spring training is not a finish line," Klentak said. "The end of spring training is the starting line for a long major-league season. Whatever we can do to preserve as many assets and players and different possibilities as we can, we need to factor that in as we're making out our opening-day roster."