Phillies Notebook: New Phillies' righthander Aumont looks more like starter

Phillippe Aumont, who looks more like a starter than a reliever, throws yesterday.
Phillippe Aumont, who looks more like a starter than a reliever, throws yesterday.
Posted: February 17, 2010

CLEARWATER, Fla. - Phillippe Aumont, the hard-throwing 21-year-old righthander acquired in the trade that sent Cliff Lee to Seattle, said the Phillies haven't officially told him whether he will enter the season as a starter or reliever. But while the decision may not be set in stone, the near-unanimous opinion among team personnel is that he will begin the year as a starter at Double A Reading.

And if you listened to Aumont talk yesterday, it was easy to understand why.

As a reliever in the Mariners system last year, Aumont relied almost exclusively on his mid-90s fastball. But after posting a 3.24 ERA and 1.08 WHIP and striking out 35 batters in 33 1/3 innings at Class A High Desert, he moved on to Double A West Tennessee, where he found he was less able to overpower the league's more seasoned hitters. Aumont called more on his curveball, but finished the year with a 5.09 ERA while allowing 1.81 walks and hits per nine innings.

Although Aumont could very well break into the big leagues as a reliever - this season is a major stretch - to be effective in that role he still needs to develop a solid secondary pitch. And the conventional wisdom is that he will get more of an opportunity to develop his curveball (more of a slurve) and changeup by starting the season as a starter, where he will throw more pitches during games and have the benefit of regularly scheduled sidework.

"You get more time throwing, more sidework," said Aumont, the 11th overall pick in the 2007 draft.

Aumont said he does not know how the Phillies will use him this spring - the team's coaches and decision-makers spent the majority of yesterday in meetings before moving on to participate in Bill Giles' annual golf tournament - but has no preference.

"I like both," Aumont said. "It doesn't matter to me - wherever they think I should be."

When the Phillies traded Lee for Aumont and fellow Mariners prospects outfielder Tyson Gillies and righthander J.C. Ramirez, they did so with the future in mind. Joining Aumont in big-league spring training are lefthanders Antonio Bastardo and Sergio Escalona and righthanders B.J. Rosenberg and Scott Mathieson, so the Phillies have some options should they find themselves in need of a young relief arm. Bastardo, Escalona and Mathieson have all seen short stints in the majors, while Rosenberg is a 24-year-old who played collegiately at Louisville and finished last season at Double A Reading.

In an ideal world, Aumont would spend 2010 developing his secondary pitches with an eye toward 2011, when Romero could be a free agent and Ryan Madson will be entering the last year of his contract, or 2012, when Brad Lidge is the only current reliever under contract and Cole Hamels and Joe Blanton will both be in the last year of their deals.

While playing for Peoria in the Arizona Fall League this offseason before the trade, Aumont worked extensively on developing a changeup.

"I definitely started to get a feel for it," Aumont said. "It was becoming a strikeout pitch."

Aumont struck out 18 in 12 innings in the fall league, but allowed 16 earned runs and four home runs while walking eight. Spring training, which officially begins tomorrow with the first workout for pitchers and catchers, will give the Phillies their first extended look at their new prospect.

But with a full big-league rotation - the team's top four starters are all under club control through at least 2012 - and adequate minor league depth in the bullpen, 2010 looks to be a developmental year for Aumont.

Complex renovated

Spring training will provide the first look at the organization's newly renovated minor league complex, which sits adjacent to Bright House Field. Opened in 1967, the Carpenter Complex was gutted last summer and revamped with new offices and an elevated observation walkway that now allows coaches and scouts to walk around to any of the three fields.

Other additions include a new locker room, a larger training room and a slew of new offices.

Phillers

Lefthander J.A. Happ threw a bullpen session yesterday, during which he worked heavily on his cutter, a pitch that he felt he left over the middle of the plate too often last season. Happ, who says he still will throw a curveball, is focusing on keeping his cutter tight and down in the zone to better combat righthanded hitters . . . Righthander Scott Mathieson, whose surprising recovery from two elbow surgeries took a big step forward during the Arizona Fall League, also threw off the mound yesterday . . . Pitchers and catchers are due to report today, with their first workout tomorrow. The first full squad workout is Feb. 23, with Grapefruit League action set to begin at home against the Yankees on March 4 (the Phillies host Florida State in an exhibition March 3 at 7:05 p.m.). *

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