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.

Phillies prospect J.P. Crawford learning to fight through failure

Phillies prospect J.P. Crawford learning to fight through failure

ALLENTOWN, Pa. — Plastered on a wall outside the press box in Coca-Cola Park is a sign — "Pigs to the Bigs" — surrounded by dozens of stars.

Each has upon it the name of a player who has made the leap from the Triple A Lehigh Valley IronPigs to the parent Phillies since Lehigh Valley began operations in 2008 — everyone from outfielder Chris Snelling (April 30, 2008) to pitcher Nick Pivetta (April 29, 2017), the latter of whom has since returned to the IronPigs.

It is a study in the star-crossed, of guys who bounced up and down (Pete Orr, July 8, 2011), guys who flamed out (Domonic Brown, July 28, 2010), guys whose fate is yet to be determined (Maikel Franco, Sept. 3, 2014).

The point being that the path to major-league stardom seldom follows a straight line.

That has been demonstrated once again by the Phillies' top prospect, shortstop J.P. Crawford, who spent weeks in bounce-back mode earlier this season.

And now finds himself there again.

His 0-for-4 night in Thursday's 8-4 loss to Indianapolis left him hitless in his last 16 at-bats, his slash line for the season at .175/.291/.221.

Recall that Crawford, the 16th overall pick in the 2013 draft, had exactly four hits in 48 at-bats over his first 14 games of the season, an average of .083.

Never before had the 22-year-old experienced anything like it, and he took a methodical approach to remedying the problem. He did some video work. He tinkered with his stance. He consulted with hitting coach Sal Rende and roving minor-league hitting instructor Andy Tracy. And slowly but surely, he began coming around.

The thinking at that point was that his slump might serve as a valuable lesson, a blessing in disguise.

As Crawford put it hours before Thursday's first pitch, "I'd rather struggle here than if I ever make it to the big leagues, God willing. I'd much rather have it [happen] down here than up there."

Though it will happen there, too. Baseball, everyone always says, is a game of failure. It's just a matter of how each player deals with it, works through it, minimizes it.

Lehigh Valley manager Dusty Wathan has said repeatedly that he was impressed by Crawford's approach to his scuffling start, that he thought the youngster treated it as "a growing opportunity" that can only help him down the line.

It was all Wathan could have hoped for, for Crawford or anybody else.

"I think it's a good thing to be able to have some experience to look back on, later on," he said. "Now, when they're going through it they probably don't think of it that way, but those of us who have been around baseball and been in situations like that personally, too, know that it's going to get better."

Wathan, seated at his office desk in a T-shirt and shorts before Thursday's game, has been around the block. He previously managed Crawford at Double A Reading, and believes those 14 games in April represent a blip.

"We know that J.P.'s a great player," Wathan said. "I think [such struggles] can actually end up being a good thing for these guys."

If Crawford, a native Californian, had few previous failures to draw upon — "He hasn't really had any," Wathan said — he at least had a ready roster of big-time athletes in his family with whom he could commiserate. His dad, Larry, was a CFL defensive back from 1981-89. His cousin, Carl, was a major-league outfielder for 15 years, ending last season. His older sister, Eliza, played softball at Cal State-Fullerton.

Certainly it appears they have kept him grounded, because he is singularly unimpressed by his draft status or ranking with various scouting services.

"I [couldn't] care less about that," he said. "All that doesn't really matter. Once you get on the field, everyone's the same. Everyone's the same player."

Though he was somewhat less than that early on. He was admittedly frustrated, but far from defeated.

"You've got to stay on the positive [side] on everything," he said. "You can't get too down on yourself, or else you're just going to do worse."

Had it been a major-league situation instead of a player-development situation, it is entirely possible that Wathan would have held him out of the lineup a day or two, just to let him clear his head.

"Or maybe not, because he contributes every night, somehow," the manager said.

And as Crawford said, "You're not going to get better sitting. You've got to go out there and play."

He admitted earlier this month that while he had once been reluctant about video study, he found great benefit in it when he was looking for answers in late April.

He decided to raise his hands while at the plate, and the hits began to come. He batted at a .253 clip over 24 games, including a six-game hitting streak, bringing his average to a season-best .196 on May 20.

Now it's back to the drawing board. It is, after all, a game of failure. It's just a matter of dealing with it, working through it, minimizing it.

He has become well-acquainted with the concept.

Howie Kendrick hit by pitch twice, removed from rehab start at Triple A

Howie Kendrick hit by pitch twice, removed from rehab start at Triple A

Howie Kendrick experienced a painful rehab start on Thursday night.

Rehabbing with Triple A Lehigh Valley, Kendrick was hit by a pitch twice before being removed after the sixth inning of the IronPigs' 8-4 loss to Indianapolis at Coca-Cola Park.

Both times Kendrick was plunked in the upper left arm, according to Tom Housenick of the Morning Call.

There was no update on if Kendrick was injured or taken out for precautionary reasons. Thursday marked Kendrick's second rehab start as he recovers from an oblique strain that has sidelined him since April 15.

The Phillies' leftfielder started at third base Thursday. At the beginning of his rehab assignment, Kendrick was expected to play four games and see time at third and first base, as well as in left field.

Kendrick made a throwing error at third on Thursday and finished 0 for 1 with a run scored. In his two games, he's 0 for 3 with two strikeouts.

Kendrick hit .333 with four doubles, a triple and five RBIs in 10 games with the Phillies prior to landing on the DL.

When he returns, he could see time at third base instead of left field if Maikel Franco continues to struggle (see story).