David Murphy: Now, Aumont's audition begins in earnest

Aumont
Aumont
Posted: August 24, 2012

THIS CURRENT ERA of Phillies baseball began in earnest on the day Phillippe Aumont became a member of the organization. It was Dec. 16, 2009, a few weeks shy of his 21st birthday, when Ruben Amaro Jr. stunned the baseball world by trading for Roy Halladay and trading away Cliff Lee, the latter deal resulting in a package of prospects headlined by a hulking righthander who had converted from starter to reliever the previous season.

In many ways, the dominoes continue to fall from that fateful day: the absence of Lee prompting the Phillies to trade for Roy Oswalt instead of another weapon for the lineup, which they later addressed by trading for Hunter Pence, whom they traded away 3 weeks ago to begin a rebuilding process that paved the way for Aumont's promotion to the major leagues on Tuesday. On Thursday night, he made his debut, the first of the three players acquired for Lee to appear in a major league game. The results matched the scouting report, Aumont walking a batter and struggling with command of his breaking ball but displaying a mid-90s fastball with good movement that enabled him to make it through the eighth inning unscathed. At this point, there is not much more to say. The story will be written from here on out.

The important thing is that Aumont will get his chance. The Phillies signaled that earlier in the day by sending fellow righthander Michael Schwimer down to Triple A Lehigh Valley to clear room for Jeremy Horst, whose brief trip to the paternity list is what prompted the Phillies to call up Aumont. The pressure, at least externally, will be close to zero. Now 23, the 6-7, 255-pound righty immediately becomes the most interesting man in the bullpen, which has seen a long line of young pitchers struggle in their auditions for next year's roster. On Wednesday night, young righty Josh Lindblom allowed a home run that proved to be the deciding factor in the game. B.J. Rosenberg entered Thursday night with an ERA that looked more like a yards-per-catch (10.61). And Antonio Bastardo continues to bedevil a coaching staff that last season saw him pitch like one of the most dominant setup men in the game.

Now, it is Aumont's turn, and you get the sense that the final 37 games of this dreadful season will be more than enough to know whether he will break camp with the team next April. There seems little doubt about the veracity of his fastball. The pitch is hard, and it moves, and it comes screaming down on a hitter from nearly 8 feet above field level.

"I just have to enjoy it and go out there and do the same thing I was doing at Lehigh," he said. "Don't have to change anything. I just have to trust my fastball and curveball and everything and just let it eat."

Command and composure. Those are the questions. Aumont walked 34 batters in 44 1/3 innings at Lehigh Valley this season, an ugly average of 6.9 per nine innings. In his debut, he used 18 pitches to get through four batters. Ten strikes, eight balls. He jumped ahead of Ryan Ludwick with two swinging strikes, then missed with three straight balls before the veteran slugger smacked a sharp ground ball that would have resulted in a base hit if not for a spectacular diving stop-and-throw by Jimmy Rollins. There was a flyout, and then the walk, and then an inning-ending groundout. And with that, he accomplished an objective that has eluded the Phillies' bullpen throughout much of the season, holding an opponent scoreless in the eighth inning. A 3-2 deficit held steady, and in the bottom of the frame the offense scratched out a run to tie things up, en route to a 4-3, 11th-inning victory.

"I got out there and was a little nervous, anxious," he said. "But when I got on the mound and started warming up, it all went away. Just tried to get back to basics. Simple things. I felt pretty good out there."

Watching Aumont, you get the sense that his fastball alone is enough to contribute in some fashion, provided he is able to exhibit the requisite command. His curveball is more of a question mark - three of the four he threw Thursday night were balls, one of which bounced in the dirt, another of which ended up at the backstop. But one game does not prove anything. One month, however, should provide a decent gauge on Aumont's physical capabilities against major league hitters.

Adaptation to the psychological pressure of life at the back end of a bullpen follows a much less certain timeline. First, he must prove himself worthy of the back.

Aumont's debut was a step in the right direction. A small one, yes, but baby steps are what this final month will be all about.


Contact Dave Murphy at dmurphy@phillynews.com. Follow him on Twitter @HighCheese. For Phillies coverage and opinion, read his blog at philly.com/HighCheese.

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