Bob Ford: Phillies finding out the kids are all right

Tyler Cloyd will make his fourth start for the Phillies on Thursday. He will be pitching on short rest.
Tyler Cloyd will make his fourth start for the Phillies on Thursday. He will be pitching on short rest. (DAVID MAIALETTI /Staff)
Posted: September 13, 2012

There are 20 games remaining in the season for the Phillies, and the mathematical reality of what they must do to salvage an improbable postseason berth is becoming increasingly daunting.

When the Phillies are scoreboard-watching these days, they have to watch the whole scoreboard to keep track of all the teams they must pass in order to put a hopeful punctuation on the end of a disappointing passage of baseball.

Tuesday night kept that hope alive, though, as the Phillies held on to beat the Marlins, 9-7, and extended their winning streak to six games and their recent hot spell to 17 wins in their last 23 games. The math didn't get a whole lot better for them, but all they can do is keep winning and let the decimal points sort themselves out at the end.

Aside from the statistical hole they dug in the first four months of the season, the Phillies are battling some baseball improbabilities in these last few weeks. They are trying to win important games and trying to do so with a lot of players who have never done that before.

It's a tightrope act over a deep canyon with a bunch of guys on the rope for the first time. That's something that might make a manager nervous, but Charlie Manuel says he doesn't look at it that way.

"I think it's kind of exciting, really," Manuel said. "You get to see how they're going to react. The kids are playing a big part. They're a big energy factor."

The reliance on the kids is most apparent in the bullpen, where five rookies are getting important innings, and that doesn't count Josh Lindblum, who came from Los Angeles in the Shane Victorino deal with just 77 major-league innings on his resume.

It might be, however, that the rookie upon whom the late surge most depends is starter Tyler Cloyd, who will make his fourth start on Thursday night in Houston. Cloyd was called up from Lehigh Valley when Vance Worley left the rotation to have surgery on his right elbow.

Cloyd had an all-right first start against the Mets, a very good second start against the Reds, and then was knocked out after just four innings against the Rockies last weekend. That early exit allowed the Phillies to slot him on short rest against the Astros, maybe because they think he can handle it and maybe because the organization isn't that sold on the righthander's chances regardless of rest.

"I've always had to prove myself, but I like that," said Cloyd, a 25-year-old who was taken in the 18th round of the 2008 draft. "I'm not saying I'm an underdog, but I'm not a well-known name and I've had to prove I can pitch at each level and continue to work my way up consistently."

It has been a deliberate climb through the organization for Cloyd, who started this season at Reading and spent most of it at Lehigh Valley before getting called up. He was 12-1 with a 2.35 earned run average for the IronPigs after going 3-0 in Reading. That's an impressive season, but it took Worley's elbow issues to get him to the big club.

He had to prove himself at every stop because he doesn't light up the radar gun and must rely on excellent control each time out. His fastball usually tops out at about 88 miles per hour, which is a difficult way to pitch in the major leagues.

"He's got guts. He throws the ball over the plate. He works fast. He's not afraid and he's got some deception," said general manager Ruben Amaro Jr., listing Cloyd's attributes. "But we'll see how it works out. Playing in the major leagues and playing in the minor leagues are two totally different things. A lot depends on the mental makeup of the player, on his ability and how we nuture him."

Cloyd was a surprise draft pick in 2008 - it surprised him, too - after pitching two seasons for the University of Nebraska-Omaha, a Division II school, and then hooking on with the semipro Havasu (Ariz.) Heat, which is not too many rungs above slinging it for Fred's Auto Detailing.

Doesn't matter now. Cloyd is in the major leagues and has a chance to prove himself at the last level necessary. If he gives the Phillies a chance in this long-shot race for a wild-card spot, he gives himself a chance to stick around in the future.

"It's great to get up here at the end of the year and show them what I can do, and see what I have to work on to have some success in the big leagues," Cloyd said. "It's a different game here. They hit mistakes harder and farther than the guys in the minor leagues, and they hit good pitches, too. It helps you learn what is a good pitch and what is a bad pitch."

With enough good pitches from Cloyd that don't get hit, the Phillies might be convinced they have more starting depth in the system than they thought.

"This is a good experience for all the young players, and it definitely gives you a read on them," Manuel said. "You see how they react when something happens, when they get hit or something. It lets you know who they are."

The Phillies don't really know who Cloyd is yet, and maybe he doesn't know, either. That is what pressurized September games can reveal.

If the Phils play games that matter all month, it will mean the kids did all right. For Cloyd, it might mean that radar guns don't lie, but they don't always tell the whole truth, either.


Contact columnist Bob Ford at bford@phillynews.com, read his blog at www.philly.com/postpatterns, and follow @bobfordsports on Twitter.

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