Stutes sticks with Phillies as first roster cuts are made

Mike Stutes has had more success as a reliever than a starter.
Mike Stutes has had more success as a reliever than a starter.
Posted: March 12, 2011

SARASOTA, Fla. - Midway through last spring training, Mike Stutes was summoned to an office for a meeting with Phillies assistant general manager Chuck LaMar and minor league pitching coordinator Gorman Heimueller. The two longtime personnel men gave the righthander their blunt assessment of his future in the organization, suggesting that his skill set profiled better in the bullpen than in the starting rotation.

"When they brought me in, they were asking me," Stutes, 24, said in a conversation with the Daily News earlier this spring, "but at the same time, they were telling me."

Less than a year later, the move is already paying huge dividends. While the Phillies sent most of their younger prospects back to the minor leagues yesterday while paring their roster to 45, they decided to keep Stutes around for at least one more appearance against major league hitters. A slender, 6-1 righthander whom the Phils selected in the 11th round of the 2008 draft, Stutes is not even on the club's 40-man roster. But he has been the star of the spring thus far, striking out 11 and walking none while allowing one run in seven innings.

In Stutes' most recent outing, he retired three Yankees regulars in order, getting Robinson Cano to ground out, Nick Swisher to fly out and Curtis Granderson to pop out in a 7-0 Phillies win on Thursday. In five other occasions against hitters with significant major league experience, he allowed a ground-ball hit and recorded one ground-ball out, one strikeout and two flyouts.

After a game against the Red Sox in which Stutes struck out Darnell McDonald and coaxed David Ortiz into a grounder back to the pitcher's mound, an umpire pulled Charlie Manuel aside and raved about the late life on Stutes' fastball. According to Manuel, the umpire said it was the most impressive burst he'd seen all spring.

The evidence is easy to see in the uncomfortable swings Stutes' fastball produces.

"He's got real good late life on his fastball," Manuel said. "He's got some pop. He's got some rise like Jim Palmer had. That's why they don't swing good at him. The late jump beats 'em. It's hard to time him down."

Stutes had spent his entire career as a starter when the Phillies pushed him toward the bullpen. A member of Oregon State's back-to-back NCAA title teams in 2006 and '07, he went on to start 27 games at Double A Reading in 2009, going 8-8 with a 4.26 ERA.

"I had a four-pitch repertoire as a starter - fastball, slider, curveball, change," Stutes said. "The curveball was good at the lower levels, but as I moved up, in Double A, it started getting hit a little more. Hitters started taking a little more. My change, it was OK, it was serviceable, but nothing spectacular."

The move to the bullpen enabled Stutes to focus on his two best pitches: the aforementioned fastball, which suddenly clocked in the low to mid-90s, and a slider.

The ability to channel his aggressive style into one- or two-inning stints proved to be a boon. In 2009, his last year as a starter, Stutes averaged 6.7 strikeouts per nine innings. Last season, in 53 relief appearances, he averaged 9.3 strikeouts-per-nine innings, posting a 3.42 ERA in 76 1/3 innings.

"I feel like I'm throwing harder," he said.

Stutes is still very much a longshot to make the Phillies' Opening Day roster. They have five relievers who are virtual locks - Brad Lidge, Ryan Madson, Jose Contreras, Danys Baez and J.C. Romero - and a likely long man in Kyle Kendrick. That leaves, at most, one spot open in a bullpen for someone whose chances to pitch could be few and far between as long as the Phillies' star-studded rotation stays healthy.

Still, Manuel is intrigued enough by Stutes to keep him around for at least one more outing, scheduled for tomorrow against the Twins in Fort Myers. Of the Phillies' impressive crop of minor league relievers, the Oregon native looks to be the most major league ready.

Don't be surprised if you see him there at some point within the next year.

The cuts

Relief prospect Justin De Fratus, who allowed five earned runs with five strikeouts and two walks in four Grapefruit League innings, was among 16 players optioned or assigned to the minor leagues. Joining him were righthanders Drew Naylor and J.C. Ramirez, infielders Harold Garcia, Cesar Hernandez and Carlos Rivero and first baseman Matt Rizzotti, all 40-man-roster members. Nine nonroster players were assigned to minor league camp: righthanders Brian Bass, Eddie Bonine, Andrew Carpenter and Michael Schwimer; lefthander Ryan Feierabend; catcher Joel Naughton; first baseman Tagg Bozied, and outfielder Matt Miller. Infielder Robb Quinlan asked for and was granted his release. The Phillies must set their 25-man Opening Day roster by March 31. *

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