Inside the Phillies: Phillies' Vance Worley looks to build on stellar rookie season

with a 3.01 ERA, and third in the rookie of the year voting. "I'm not an ace. I'm a guy who just wants to stay in the rotation." DAVID MAIALETTI / Staff Photographer
with a 3.01 ERA, and third in the rookie of the year voting. "I'm not an ace. I'm a guy who just wants to stay in the rotation." DAVID MAIALETTI / Staff Photographer (Vance Worley was 11-3 last season)
Posted: April 01, 2012

CLEARWATER, Fla. - It's not hard to imagine what Vance Worley was thinking a year ago when he became the fifth starter in a rotation with four aces.

"I'll probably never have an experience like that again," Worley said one day last week as he continued to prepare for his 2012 debut in the Phillies' season-opening series at Pittsburgh. "How often do you get guys like that together on one staff? And then for me to even get a sniff with that kind of staff, it's kind of like a dream."

It was the happiest of beginnings for Worley, a 24-year-old righthander who finished third in National League rookie of the year voting after going 11-3 with a 3.01 ERA. He was so good that Pat Gillick, a Hall of Fame talent evaluator, believes he should now be mentioned in the same breath as the aces.

"Even though he's not experienced, I kind of put Worley in there, too," Gillick said recently when asked about the three remaining aces in the Phillies' starting rotation. "The way he pitched last year, if he can continue to pitch like that, then as a group you're talking about the best four starters in the big leagues."

Worley was predictably flattered by Gillick's assessment.

"I wouldn't say that," Worley said. "I'm a competitor. That's the way I like to look at it. I'm not an ace. I'm a guy who just wants to stay in the rotation. But that is nice to hear."

Worley should also be honored by what Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee, and Cole Hamels thought of his rookie season.

"I just liked his competitiveness," Lee said. "He's got the stuff, there's no doubt about it, but he's also a competitor. He's going to give you everything he's got every time he's out there. He's not afraid of anybody. He's got the demeanor and the extra intangibles it takes to be a good pitcher."

His nickname is Vanimal and that alone could rub some veteran pitching aces the wrong way. Doc, Cliff, and Cole love it.

"I think it fits him well," Lee said. "He's a big guy with a Mohawk and glasses and he's got a little bit of an attitude out there. He's a pretty quiet guy. It's not like he's afraid to talk. He's just a quiet guy. When he takes the mound he transforms into a different guy. He's got more of a killer instinct on the mound than off the field."

Halladay agreed and said the thing that really makes it work is that Worley does not carry it too far.

"You want to see some sort of presence from guys and he has that," Halladay said. "It's a fine line. You can't get too caught up in what they tell you you are and what you actually know you are. He definitely carries himself well and you want to see him maintain that."

As much as Halladay likes Vanimal's mound presence and approach, he's not ready to call the young righthander by his nickname.

"I call him Vance," Halladay said, laughing at the thought of referring to Worley by his Vanimal moniker.

Hamels, meanwhile, is hoping to see some creative Vanimal signs and costumes at Citizens Bank Park this season.

"That's the best part about Philadelphia," Hamels said. "They really accept the personalities that the players have and they really get involved in it. I think that's what makes Philadelphia such a great baseball town. I think this year we should look forward to seeing some signs and outfits that can really address what the Vanimal is all about."

And what is the Vanimal about?

"I'm still waiting to find out," Hamels said.

As demonstrative as Worley can be on the mound, he is quiet and unassuming off it, especially when he's around the aces.

"I'm a quiet guy, but once you get to know me a little better, I'm sarcastic," Worley said.

It's a charming side that he has shown to the media, but kept from the aces.

"In here, it's professional," he said. "You have to be you to an extent, but you have to know what the limits are. I just kind of kept my distance. I didn't want to step on anyone's toes."

That did not stop Worley from learning from the masters. He understood the power of observation and along the way got some pitching tips, too.

Like every pitcher, he marveled at Halladay's workout routines and tried his best to emulate them.

"The guy is a machine," Worley said.

He was fascinated by the way Lee could separate his demeanor on the mound from his quiet personality off the field.

"He's probably got the most outgoing personality," Worley said. "He focuses on the game when he needs to, and when he's away from the game he zones out. I just got little bits from each guy."

Worley is experimenting with a change-up grip that Halladay showed him early in spring training and he uses a cutter grip that Hamels first showed him at the end of the 2010 season.

"I was in the same boat as him," Hamels said. "I wanted to learn stuff and get better because guys learn you and then they start guessing right. If you can keep them on their toes year after year, they don't catch up to you and that's how you have success. I showed him that grip and he went and worked on it.

Hamels said Lee and Halladay use basically the same grip to throw their cut fastballs.

"Now we have a fourth guy that has that grip," Hamels said.

He's not ready to be known as the fourth ace, but Vanimal is ready to start his second season and to continue his education with the three aces.

Inside the Phillies: Comparing Rookie Seasons

Vance Worley isn't ready to be considered the fourth ace in the Phillies starting rotation, but he did have a better rookie campaign than Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee, and Cole Hamels. Here's how his 2011 campaigned compared with the rookie seasons of the Phillies' three aces and what the aces did in their second seasons.

PITCHER/TEAM    AGE    YEAR    W-L    ERA    IP    H     ER    K    W    WHIP

Roy Halladay, Toronto    22    1999    8-7    3.92    149.1   156     65     82     79    1.574

   23    2000     4-7 10.64    67.2   107     87     44     42    2.202

Cliff Lee, Cleveland   24    2003     3-3    3.61     52.1    41     21     44     20    1.166

   25    2004   14-8    5.43    179.0   188    108     81    161    1.503

Cole Hamels, Phillies    22    2006    9-8    4.08    132.1   117     60    145     48    1.247

   23    2007   15-5    3.39    183.1   163     69    177     43    1.124

Vance Worley, Phillies    23    2011    11-3    3.01    131.2   116     44    119    46    1.230

Contact staff writer Bob Brookover

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