Phillies Notebook: Phils' Papelbon up to speed

Posted: March 04, 2014

CLEARWATER, Fla. - The scoreboard at Bright House Field said 3-0 and the closer trudged toward the mound.

But Jonathan Papelbon's team was losing and it wasn't the ninth inning, it was the fifth. It was also March 2 in the Grapefruit League schedule and not, say, May 2 at Citizens Bank Park against the Nationals.

But Papelbon popped in a few fastballs that touched 93 mph on the radar gun en route to a 1-2-3 inning in the Phillies' exhibition game against the Pirates yesterday.

"It looked like it had some giddy-up on it," pitching coach Bob McClure said. "That was good to see."

As a general rule of spring training - which is designed in large part to get pitchers' arms strong and in shape for the 6-month season - pitchers don't reach maximum velocity until later into March. With increased reps comes increased strength.

Papelbon, though, was making his Grapefruit League debut. A boost in his velocity could help him rebound from a troublesome second season with the Phillies.

According to PITCHf/x data, Papelbon's fastball reached its peak last year in May when it averaged 92.88 mph. His fastball was under 92 mph after the All-Star break and dipped below 91 mph in September.

Papelbon also saw a dip in his strikeout rate, from 11.8 strikeouts-per-nine innings in 2012 to a career-low 8.3 last season. He also allowed a career-high 59 hits in 61 2/3 innings, the fewest innings he'd pitched since 2007.

When Papelbon arrived in camp, he admitted to dealing with "nagging" injuries last season, but also said he was confident he could put 2013 in the past.

"I'm real confident," he said. "I trained this offseason harder than I have almost every offseason. I've come into this camp probably better than I have in my entire career. I feel good and all I can say is that only time will tell.

"I don't think [velocity] has a lot to do with anything, to be honest with you. It is nice to throw 95-plus every night. But that's not what it takes to get through this league and through a 162-game baseball season. I think it's deeper than that. I think it's mental makeup and ability and grinding."

First impression

Miguel Alfredo Gonzalez will likely make his second spring appearance on Thursday, when the Phillies have a split squad scheduled: they host the New York Yankees and travel to Lakeland to play the Detroit Tigers.

Gonzalez allowed two hits, one run, walked four and struck out two in 1 2/3 innings. Gonzalez struggled with command, but McClure saw some positives from a guy who hadn't pitched competitively in over 2 years.

"I saw a very competitive [guy], and that is what I was really hoping for," McClure said. "I knew it was going to be rusty. I knew that. But it didn't seem like he was in awe, by any means, and he looked competitive and under control. It wasn't the results you look for, but I was pleased with how he handled himself and how competitive he was and how he pitched. There were a lot of plusses for me there."

Gonzalez signed a 3-year, $12 million deal with the Phillies in August as a free agent out of Cuba.

No further review

Manager Ryne Sandberg said he would have employed instant replay, had it been available, in the first inning yesterday, when shortstop Freddy Galvis charged to nab a ground ball and swiftly tagged second base with his foot to get the force.

Second-base umpire Mark Wegner called the runner safe, but Sandberg said he admitted later he got the call wrong.

"He was expecting Galvis to dive and tag it with the glove, and with the foot he lost track," Sandberg said.

Instant replay will go into effect in the big leagues this season. Sandberg said the Phillies will have "a handful" of games where they will be able to practice utilizing the system this spring.

Phillers

Tony Gwynn Jr., the son of the Hall of Famer, went 2-for-4 with a double in the Phillies' 4-1 loss to the Pirates yesterday. Gwynn played all nine innings in centerfield, where he has impressed with his glove. Gwynn, 31, is in camp as a nonroster player trying to win a job as a lefthanded-hitting reserve on the Phillies bench. Gwynn is a .244 hitter in seven seasons with the Brewers, Padres and Dodgers . . . Roberto Hernandez will start against his former team when the Phillies face Tampa Bay at 1 p.m. today in Port Charlotte. Tomorrow, Cliff Lee and fellow former Cy Young Award winner R.A. Dickey square off for the second time in 6 days when the Phillies host Toronto (6:35 p.m., TCN) . . . Former "Saturday Night Live" cast member Jon Lovitz was at Bright House Field yesterday as a guest of outfield prospect Kelly Dugan. Dugan's father, Dennis, is a Hollywood director who directed Lovitz in "Grown Ups 2."


On Twitter: @ryanlawrence21

Blog: ph.ly/HighCheese

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