Sunday, March 13, 2011
Posted: 5:22 p.m.
By John R. FingerCSNPhilly.com
FORT MYERS, Fla. -- It was supposed to be the day Roy Oswalt pitched in a Grapefruit League game, but the drive from Clearwater to Fort Myers isnt exactly the most exciting way to wile away a Sunday. So rather than to have the veteran right-hander ride a bus for upwards of five hours, manager Charlie Manuel told his second right-handed ace to stay behind.
Instead, Oswalt pitched in a minor league game where he turned in 5 23 innings and was back home in time to watch the sun set over the Gulf of Mexico.
Meanwhile, Manuel put 24-year-old right-handed relief prospect Mike Stutes on the bus to start Sundays game against the Minnesota Twins at Hammond Stadium. No, it wasnt a punishment not in the least. Instead, it was a bit of a test for the young, hard-throwing righty who has turned a lot of heads in big league camp.
After throwing three hitless innings against the AL Central champion Twins that featured a lineup comprised of All-Stars Justin Morneau and Jim Thome, Stutes showed he was up to the challenge. Better yet, with the game being broadcast back in Philadelphia, Stutes was able to show the fans just what everyone has been talking about.
Its going much better than I expected, Stutes offered after blanking the Twins in three innings in the 6-3 victory, Sunday. I havent gone three innings in more than a year.
Stutes retired the first six hitters he faced on just 19 pitches, walked the seventh hitter he faced on four pitches, but then quickly erased him on a strikeout-double play against big league catcher Drew Butera. All told Stutes needed 32 pitches (19 strikes) to get through the three-inning outing.
Better yet, Stutes stat line through the spring is going to make it tough for Manuel to send him off to Triple-A at the end of camp. In 10 innings covering six outings this spring, Stutes has 12 strikeouts, allowed one run, one walk and four hits. Manuel said an umpire working the plate in an early Grapefruit League game against the Yankees said Stutes had a lot of late movement on his pitches that just might have been the best stuff the ump had seen all spring.
So maybe Stutes wont go back to the minors at all when the Phillies break camp and head north.
Its tough for him right now to make our team, but that doesn't mean wont or cant, Manuel said. I think any time youre wearing a big league uniform and we keep running you out there to look at you, I think, yeah, I want him to go out there and pitch with the idea that hes going to do the best that he can. Make us make a decision on him.
Stutes is doing his part. Though he says he got away with a few pitches against the Twins, hes doing what he can to soak in the moment as it occurs. For instance, he says he remembered thinking about what it must be like to pitch against a hitter like Thome when he was a kid and then to get the future Hall of Famer to ground out to first was pretty cool.
But whether or not hes going to make the club is a different issue. As a starter in 27 games for Double-A Reading in 2009, Stutes posted a 4.26 ERA with 109 strikeouts in 145 innings. But last season as a reliever, Stutes went 7-1 with a 3.42 ERA in 53 outings for Double-A Reading and Triple-A Lehigh Valley. He had 79 strikeouts in 76 13 innings.
Hes got a good arm. Hes got real good late life on his fastball. He's got some pop. He's got late ride like (Jim) Palmer had, Manuel said. That's why they don't swing good, he's got late jump. It's hard to time it down.
Still, Stutes seems like a strong dark horse contender to make the team. Along with the five starters, relievers Brad Lidge, Ryan Madson, J.C. Romero, Jose Contreras and Danys Baez are a lock to make the team. Seemingly, Stutes could be in the mix with Kyle Kendrick and Vance Worley for the last spots in the bullpen depending on if Manuel takes 11 or 12 pitchers on his roster.
Hes been good, pitching coach Rich Dubee said. Hes gotten people out.
With that fastball with the late movement, Stutes could project as a closer down the road, but thats putting the cart before the horse. Stutes, the winning pitcher in the final game of the 2007 College World Series for Oregon State, has to develop his repertoire of complimentary pitches first even then, who knows.
We like him, Dubee said of the 11th-round selection in the 07 draft. We always liked him. Hes maturing.
I dont look at him as a closer right now. I know he has a big arm and once he gets fully going I dont know if his breaking ball is going to be good enough to be a closer and I dont know if hes going to handle it. But we like him.
In the meantime, Stutes is just going from one day to the next. Hes not ready to think about the possibility of making a big league roster yet.
Im just trying to do my best every day, Stutes said. I havent had a chance to really look back since Im on the field every day at seven oclock in the morningthat doesnt give you a lot of time to reflect. Ive had some good days and some bad days and the good days have fallen on the days where I have pitched.
The Phillies used a six-run fifth inning to roll to a 6-3 victory over the Twins and take their sixth victory in the last seven games. Delwyn Young struck the big blow for the Phillies with a three-run homer off the foul pole in right, while Wilson Valdez and Josh Barfield added a pair of hits.
Also of note, Danys Baez followed Stutes with his fifth straight outing of scoreless ball after allowing five runs in two-thirds of an innings in a B game against Toronto.
E-mail John R. Finger at email@example.com
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