Phillippe Aumont comes out firing in live BP

Phillippe Aumont comes out firing in live BP

February 18, 2013, 4:30 pm
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CLEARWATER, Fla. – Spring training unfolds in stages.

There’s report day, the first workout for pitchers and catchers, and the first full-squad workout.

There’s bullpen work for pitchers, cutoff drills for outfielders, and, of course, there are games with the pitchers working their way to 100 pitches and the hitters climbing to 75 or so plate appearances before opening day.

Along the way, early in camp, there is something called live batting practice. Live BP for short.

During live BP, the pitchers, many of whom have already thrown a half dozen or more bullpen sessions, let it ride for 40 pitches as the hitters, still adjusting their eyes to the game after a long winter, stand in the batter’s box. Sometimes a hitter will take a few swings. More often hitters will simply watch or “track” pitches as they make progressions toward being game-ready. Either way, live BP isn’t always fun for hitters. Especially when someone as hungry to make a team as Phillippe Aumont is standing on the mound.

When Aumont, a 6-foot-7 flame-throwing reliever, took the mound Monday there was a strange pause around the batting cage. Ben Revere, Jimmy Rollins, Kevin Frandsen and several other hitters looked at each other as if to say: “Do we really have to do this?” Eventually the hitters took turns standing in on Aumont, who was bringing the noise.

“This ain’t the WBC yet,” Rollins told Aumont.

That was the veteran shortstop’s way of telling Aumont to slow it down and save something for the games that count.

“This is their first time in there,” Aumont said later. “I think they’re scared I might hit them before they get their feet wet.”

Despite Rollins’ playful admonition, Aumont isn’t dialing back on anything. The 24-year-old righthander has come to his third big-league camp on a mission: To impress and win a job in the season-opening bullpen. If that means making things uncomfortable for teammates in BP then so be it.

“It’s time for me to prove I can stay here,” Aumont said. “I wanted to come into this camp ready and at this point I’m almost game-ready.”

Aumont increased the intensity of his throwing several weeks ago because he will be competing for Canada in the WBC in March. He will join Team Canada on March 3 in Arizona and be part of a bullpen that includes big-leaguers John Axford, Jim Henderson and Jesse Crain.

There are probably just three openings in the Phillies’ bullpen. One of them will probably go to a lefty such as Jeremy Horst, Jake Diekman or Raul Valdes. Phillies officials would love Aumont to step up, harness his overpowering stuff and win a spot in the ’pen. The eighth and ninth innings will be handled mostly by Mike Adams and Jonathan Papelbon, but Aumont has the stuff – a sinking fastball that can reach the high 90s, a hard breaking ball and a splitter – to eventually be a back-end guy. If the Phillies’ bullpen shapes up the way team officials would like, Aumont could contribute in a less pressurized role early in the season and work his way toward the late innings.

Over the years, some players around baseball have been reluctant to leave their clubs in March for the WBC because they believe it could hurt their chances of making the team. Aumont has no such worries and he shouldn’t. Phillies scouts will watch him pitch in the WBC.

“I think the experience will be good for him,” pitching coach Rich Dubee said. “We’ll have eyes on him.”

Aumont came to the Phillies in the trade that sent Cliff Lee to Seattle in Dec. 2009. After some ups and downs and a failed attempt to be a starter, he may be on the right track. He pitched in 18 games for the Phils late last season and at times was dominant. In 14 2/3 innings, he allowed 10 hits and six earned runs. He struck out 14, but walked nine. Control has always been the issue for Aumont. If he can ever harness his stuff, the Phillies could have themselves a heck of a weapon in their bullpen. Aumont did not have any control problems in Monday’s workout.

Other Phillies pitchers who threw live BP Monday included Cole Hamels and Roy Halladay. Hitters mostly just tracked Halladay, but the righthander left the mound with a smile as he conferred with Dubee. Halladay threw just sinkers and cutters. He will mix in his curveball later this spring.

“Doc was fine,” Dubee said. “He had a good day.”

A truer read on all the pitchers will come when they start facing hitters at game speed. The first exhibition game is Saturday against Houston in Clearwater.

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