Danys Baez mentors Antonio Bastardo - again

Antonio Bastardo seemed to have fixed his pitching flaws.
Antonio Bastardo seemed to have fixed his pitching flaws. (YONG KIM / Staff Photographer)
Posted: October 01, 2011

Danys Baez does not watch much baseball these days. He is paid $2.75 million to stay away from the game that once compelled him to spend 10 days in hiding to defect from his home country.

"It's tough for me," Baez said Friday from his Miami home.

But then he heard about Antonio Bastardo, and Baez was interested in baseball again. For the first five months of the season, Bastardo emerged as one of the game's most dominant relievers. It was something Baez, who mentored the 25-year-old Phillies lefty, took pride in watching.

And maybe it's Baez, released at the end of July by the Phillies, who can be credited with one crucial save in the form of a text message. The fall of Bastardo was documented first as fatigue, later as a product of pitch tipping. Then no one was sure what to make of it. In a span of 22 days, he faced 27 batters and 16 of them reached base. Bastardo is convinced he's solved it all.

The Phillies need Bastardo in October, beginning with Saturday's Game 1 of the National League division series against St. Louis, because the bullpen offers little stability beyond Ryan Madson. Brad Lidge has pitched strong recently, but has stranded an unsustainable 90 percent of runners. Mike Stutes rediscovered the life on his fastball at the end of the season, but his dependability remains a question.

Asked Friday which pitcher he would use in a tight eighth-inning situation, Charlie Manuel was brusque.

"I don't know, man," he said.

When the Phillies won the World Series in 2008, their bullpen - mostly the duo of Lidge and Madson - was the best in baseball. They counter that in 2011 with the best starting staff in the game. And Manuel will surely ride his Four Aces until the breaking point. But if Bastardo can reclaim his supremacy from earlier, the manager is presented with another option.

There is hope. Bastardo threw 12 pitches Tuesday in Atlanta that allowed everyone to smile. Brooks Conrad grounded out on an 85 m.p.h. slider. Matt Diaz flew out to center on a 94 m.p.h. fastball. Michael Bourn whiffed at another 94 m.p.h. heater and Bastardo had completed the elusive clean inning.

On Friday, he wondered if Baez had a part in it.

"He told me something I've been doing wrong," Bastardo said. "I've been thinking about it."

Fellow countryman Jose Contreras told Baez he thought it would be a good idea to contact Bastardo. Baez was hesitant to interfere, but reprised his role as mentor a week ago and texted the 25-year-old lefty.

"Are you tired?" Baez typed. "Are you fine?"

"My slider is not working right now," Bastardo responded.

So Baez started watching all the video he could find on Bastardo. He compared Bastardo's delivery at different points in the season. He took notes and relayed them to Bastardo.

"I saw him do a lot of things wrong with his mechanics," Baez said.

Baez, who posted a 5.81 ERA in two seasons as a Phillies reliever, pointed to Bastardo's hand and glove positioning before he began his motion. At first, his hands were slower than the rest of his body, and that forced him to rush at the most crucial moment. His slider was rendered useless.

"I remembered what he was doing before," Baez said. "Little things make him get in the right position."

Bastardo remains a shy figure in the Phillies clubhouse. With success, his confidence grew. But some teammates pointed to Baez's influence as a major factor in Bastardo's becoming comfortable with life as a major leaguer.

Now, Baez may have offered one final favor. Maybe all Bastardo needed was a familiar refrain from his mentor. Maybe it's all mental.

"He will be big for them in the playoffs," Baez said.

And he'll be watching from Miami with his two daughters, hoping his words play a small role in a championship for his former team.

Contact staff writer Matt Gelb at mgelb@phillynews.com or @magelb on Twitter.


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