Two Phils relievers can go 100 m.p.h.

Phillies reliever Jake Diekman hit 100 m.p.h. on a pitch Tuesday night against the Padres. It was the first time in his career that he reached three digits on the radar gun.
Phillies reliever Jake Diekman hit 100 m.p.h. on a pitch Tuesday night against the Padres. It was the first time in his career that he reached three digits on the radar gun. (RON CORTES / Staff Photographer)
Posted: June 13, 2014

A pitcher who tries to throw a baseball 100 m.p.h., Phillies reliever Jake Diekman was saying, will never do it. It is not the sort of thing he can will into happening.

Trying to reach 100 m.p.h. by throwing a baseball as hard as you can is like trying to hit a golf ball 400 yards by swinging the club as hard as you can. Fluidity and mechanics and feel matter more, and a pitcher will recognize the perfect synchronicity of those elements as soon as he lets the baseball go, the way a jump-shooter knows he'll hear that sweet zip as the basketball passes through the net.

"Yeah," Diekman said, as if he were savoring a sip of a 2008 Cheval Blanc. "You shoot it . . . and walk backward."

On Tuesday night, Diekman reached that magic number for the first time in his pitching life. He needed just eight pitches to strike out two San Diego Padres, and the fastball that hit 100 was one of the two balls he threw, and still the sparse crowd cheered the sight of those three digits flashing on the Citizens Bank Park scoreboards.

The fans cheered the novelty of Diekman's hitting 100, but the reality that the moment represented carried more weight, because while Diekman - 27 years old and lefthanded - was on the mound throwing fire, Ken Giles - 23 years old and righthanded - was in the bullpen, watching.

This Phillies season will mostly be a waste if they can't find a way to start the rebuilding process that they should have begun last year, and a key aspect will be developing Diekman and Giles into bullpen mainstays. Those two can become what is so essential to success in the sport in this era: pitchers who can shorten a game by striking out batters in the seventh, eighth, and ninth innings.

"We've got guys who throw 100 from the left side and the right side," Giles said Wednesday, before the Phillies beat the Padres, 3-0, on Reid Brignac's three-run home run in the ninth inning. "I think that's a pretty dangerous combination coming out of the bullpen for us."

Giles has been a curiosity all season, making that rapid rise from double-A Reading to triple-A Lehigh Valley and finally to the Phillies on Sunday, striking out 38 over 282/3 innings, still waiting to throw his first major-league pitch. At Reading, his fastball was clocked at 101 m.p.h., and because he hasn't thrown in a game since last Wednesday, he said, "everyone's been telling me. 'You haven't thrown for a while, so you'll probably break the [fastest-pitch] record or something.' "

Diekman hadn't pitched in five days before lighting up the radar guns Tuesday, and he attributed his first 100-m.p.h. fastball to the extra rest. His average fastball speed this season is 96.4 m.p.h., according to the statistical database Fangraphs, and his overall velocity has increased since the touchstone moment of his pro career: a closed-door meeting during the 2009 all-star break with Gorman Heimueller, then the Phillies' minor-league pitching coordinator.

Over 98 innings as a starter at single-A Lakewood in 2008, Diekman allowed 120 hits and posted an ugly 5.42 earned run average, topping out at 94 m.p.h. with the same over-the-top arm motion he'd always used. "I threw so over-the-top that I had to move my head out of the way," he said. He was only half-kidding.

Heimueller told Diekman that the Phillies wanted him to change his arm slot, to try throwing sidearm. "I'm like, 'All right, it's either that or a plane ticket home,' " Diekman said. He spent two weeks on what he called "the phantom DL," the organization concocting a nonexistent "shin contusion" and putting Diekman on the disabled list so he could hone his new delivery. He found that he felt less stress on his shoulder, that his entire arm felt looser, and that his fastball had more life.

"Thank God they told me to switch," said Diekman, who has 40 strikeouts in 292/3 innings this season. "It just felt a little more natural."

Diekman said that touching 100 didn't matter to him, that a 95-m.p.h. fastball on the black is better than a 99-m.p.h. one down the middle.

Nevertheless, he'd heard the noise of the crowd when Carlos Ruiz caught that pitch, and he'd turned around to see how fast it was, just like everyone else will every time he throws a high, hard one now.

That's the allure of 100 m.p.h. That's a hint of pleasure in what will be a slog of a season.

Whatever else the Phillies have to do to right themselves, however long it might take, if nothing else they will have Jake Diekman from the left and Ken Giles from the right, and Citizens Bank Park might be fun again for a few pitches each night.


msielski@phillynews.com

@MikeSielski

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