Inside the Phillies: Phillies pitcher Savery's rise makes for unlikely story

Pitcher Joe Savery believed, and the Phils believe he could be major material. He posted a 0.00 ERA in four games last year.
Pitcher Joe Savery believed, and the Phils believe he could be major material. He posted a 0.00 ERA in four games last year. (DAVID SWANSON / Staff Photographer)
Posted: February 25, 2012

Even if Roy Halladay had actually wrestled that anaconda in the Amazon, it still would not have qualified as the most amazing story inside the Phillies clubhouse at this spring training.

That's because it is really difficult to top Joe Savery's tall tale.

A year ago when the Phillies held their first full-squad workout, as they did Friday at the Carpenter Complex, you would not have found Savery. He had gone from 2007 first-round draft pick and stud pitcher to a converted first baseman desperately trying to fulfill his big-league dream in a different way.

A lot of pitchers - even the ones taken in the first round - get released after going 1-12 with a 4.66 ERA at the triple-A level as Savery did in 2010. But Savery had been quite a good hitter in college at Rice University and he wanted to give it a try.

"My goal all along was to find a way to play in the big leagues," Savery said. "That was my goal and that was the Phillies' goal, and they were great enough to let me try all the ways possible to get here and I'm just thankful it has worked out."

Moving to first base meant Savery, at the age of 25, had to start near the bottom and try to work his way up. He spent the winter swinging and preparing for his new role, and all that work paid off. Savery batted over .400 in April and was named the Florida State League player of the month.

The high average and the award were nice, but his work with minor-league infield coordinator Doug Mansolino would inevitably be far more valuable.

"I was working with Manso on my infield stuff and I shortened up my arm action in order to be an infielder," Savery said. "For whatever reason, it just dramatically increased my velocity and my control."

Exactly how much took a while to find out.

Savery pitched only once during his two-month stay in Clearwater. On May 23, the Threshers played a 23-inning game against Jupiter and manager Dusty Wathan ran out of pitchers, so he used Savery for two scoreless innings. Wathan said the lefthander's fastball was clocked in the 90's that night.

Shortly after, Savery was promoted to double-A Reading. He was proud to have jumped a level so quickly as a hitter. He left Clearwater batting .307 with nine doubles, two home runs, and 25 RBIs.

"Even after that game in Clearwater, there was really no discussion about me pitching," Savery said. "That was the only game I pitched there. I thought I was going to Reading to hit because that is what I had been doing. But when I got there, I could tell pretty quickly that I was there to pitch."

He could tell because Phillies catcher Brian Schneider was in Reading on a rehab assignment and Savery only got a handful of at-bats that first week.

"My at-bats were not a priority," Savery said. "After Schneider left, they told me they wanted me to start throwing again."

He thought that would take some preparation, but after just one bullpen session a shortage of pitchers again forced him to the mound.

"That was probably a good way for it to happen because I didn't have to think about it," Savery said.

Perhaps just to prove that he could hit, Savery slugged a grand slam before officially returning to the mound.

Tuffy Gosewisch, who had caught Savery throughout his minor-league career, was behind the plate the first night the lefthander came in from the bullpen at Reading.

"As soon as he started throwing, it was like, 'Wow, this is a different guy,' " Gosewisch said. "It wasn't the guy I remembered. We're pretty close and we talk a lot, so I know he was a little bit nervous, but he came out and dominated . . . and he continued to roll from there."

After six appearances at Reading, he was promoted to triple-A Lehigh Valley, where he went 4-0 with two saves and a 1.80 ERA. He was named International League pitcher of the month just four months after winning the player of the month award in single A.

More important, his fastball was now touching the mid-90s.

On Sept. 20, he made his big-league debut at Citizens Bank Park, against Washington. He pitched in a total of four big-league games without allowing a run, and now he's back in big-league camp as a pitcher with a fighter's chance of earning a spot in the bullpen.

"Last year proved to me that you never know what's going to happen in a season," Savery said. "Coming to spring training, it's hard to wrap your mind around the idea that the same 12 guys on the staff aren't going to be there all year. Anything can happen."

Anything can happen, but what happened to Savery in 2011 is even more unlikely than a man wrestling an anaconda in the Amazon.

Contact staff writer Bob Brookover at or @brookob on Twitter.