"It's all about mechanics - it kind of clicked," said Baez, who was left off the postseason roster last fall after a disappointing regular season. "Little things that make you be in control of the ball. Follow those things. It's weird. And I think I found it. I feel it right now."
At the beginning of the spring, pitching coach Rich Dubee's diagnosis for Baez' struggles sounded simple: Get more angle on the ball. Instead of throwing the ball downhill, Baez' fastball and curveball were flat, putting the advantage of physics in the hitter's favor.
That said, a golf swing sounds simple, too.
"Sometimes, people can tell you stuff, and you don't feel it," Baez said. "If you don't feel it, there is nothing you can do. Now I know when I am doing something wrong and I am right back on it the next pitch."
Dubee has seen the difference. Not just in results. When you are facing guys like Nick Green, Robert Andino and Craig Tatum, as Baez did in the seventh inning yesterday, your focus is not on a box-score line. It is on process, and Dubee was thrilled with the execution he saw from Baez.
"That's what we're looking for," Dubee said. "As good as he's been, right there."
Now, the Phillies are hoping Baez can continue that success. They owe him $2.75 million this season and have little payroll flexibility after signing Cliff Lee to a 5-year, $120 million deal. With Chad Durbin gone, a rebound season by Baez would go a long way toward assuaging any fears the Phillies might have about depth in their bullpen.
"My first outing here was tough, and then I realized, I gotta try something else," he said. "Flat sinkers, hanging curveballs, split fingers, they are not going to get anybody out. And I know that more than anybody. I shortened my step a little, that way I can be on top of the ball, and one day I woke up and started playing catch and I felt better. And I said, this is exactly what I want to be."
Domonic Brown had successful surgery to remove the hook on the hamate bone in his right hand, which he fractured on Saturday. He'll have the stitches removed in 10 days and will wear a removable split for 3 or 4 weeks. He could hit in as soon as 2 weeks, but his timetable for return is still 4-to-6 weeks . . . Still no news on second baseman Chase Utley, who had a cortisone shot in his ailing knee on Friday. Manager Charlie Manuel said he expects to have an update by the end of the week . . . Cole Hamels allowed two runs with two strikeouts, two walks and one hit in four innings . . . Ryan Howard hit his third home run of the spring . . . Ben Francisco was scratched with a stiff neck. He will not play tomorrow, but could be back the next day.
For more Phillies coverage and opinion, read David Murphy's blog, High Cheese, at www.philly.com/HighCheese.