After foundering as a starter, Savery reinvents himself as a closer, and slugger

After failing as a starter and then trying to make it as a hitter, Joe Savery is thriving as a relief pitcher for the IronPigs.
After failing as a starter and then trying to make it as a hitter, Joe Savery is thriving as a relief pitcher for the IronPigs. (FRANK MITMAN)
Posted: July 17, 2011

Joe Savery is back where he was last season with the Lehigh Valley IronPigs, but under much different circumstances. In the place where his career appeared to be flaming out as a starting pitcher, Savery, the Phillies' 2007 first-round draft choice, has revived himself in the bullpen.

In between pitching assignments, the 25-year-old attempted to reinvent himself as a hitter this year.

"It's certainly been a roller coaster," Savery said in a phone interview.

Savery's dizzying baseball season has featured three stops and what he hopes is a career-altering position change. He was promoted during the past week from double-A Reading to triple-A Lehigh Valley, where the lefthander will be used as a relief pitcher.

Savery realized that his days as a starting pitcher were over after going 1-12 with a 4.66 ERA last year at Lehigh Valley. He appeared in 28 games (19 starts) and allowed 154 hits in 1271/3 innings. He struck out 67 and walked 51.

So with a fresh outlook, Savery began this season as a first baseman/leftfielder/designated hitter at single-A Clearwater. After a sizzling start, he leveled off but still hit .307 with two home runs and 25 RBIs in 205 at-bats.

He was promoted to Reading, where Phillies assistant general manager Chuck LaMar said that Savery would also see some time in relief.

Savery hit just .200 (7 for 35), but in six relief appearances totaling nine innings for Reading, he allowed just one earned run and struck out 14 while walking none.

LaMar said the plan when Savery got to Reading was to increase his pitching.

"And he showed better stuff than he has since he has been a Phillie," LaMar said.

According to LaMar, Savery's breaking ball and fastball are markedly better than at this time last year. Last season, LaMar, said Savery was throwing 86 to 88 m.p.h. At Reading, he was consistently throwing 90-94.

"His arm strength was back as it was when he was a freshman at Rice [University]," LaMar said.

Reading manager Mark Parent, a former major-league catcher who played two seasons with the Phillies, credits Savery's brief time as a position player for his improvement as a pitcher.

"Most pitchers are so worried about themselves 24/7 I don't know how they stay married in the first place," Parent said in both a serious and kidding way. "When they go out to the other side, play defense, it becomes a team-oriented game and you kind of get out of yourself."

A hitter can't afford to get too high or too low over a performance because he has a game the next day, Parent said. As a starting pitcher, Savery had too much time to think, the manager said.

The lefthander doesn't dispute that.

"I like having a defined role, coming in and letting it fly in an inning or two and being in there more often," Savery said. "Where I struggled as a starter was those four days when I was not pitching."

Savery said that playing first base had a positive effect on him as a pitcher.

"When you play the infield you have to have a shorter arm motion, and I have taken that to the mound," he said. "I have a rested arm, but I think my ability to repeat my mechanics because of my arm slot has helped."

Savery had a good debut in his new role, earning the win with two scoreless innings of relief in Thursday's 5-2 victory over Syracuse.

"I was glad to get out there without anybody scoring, but I wish I threw a few more strikes," said Savery, who threw 28 pitches, 15 for strikes. "I had a few days off from throwing and had some nerves going back and was a little anxious, but I am happy overall."

LaMar has no timetable for Savery's potential arrival in Philadelphia. But, he added, "he is a major-league prospect as a reliever."

That is a much different evaluation from the one a year ago. Suddenly Savery can see his way to Philadelphia, one year after the view was awfully foggy.

Contact staff writer Marc Narducci at 856-779-3225,,

or @sjnard on Twitter.


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