For more on Mike Stutes' impressive spring and return to health, check out Ryan Lawrence's story from today's Daily News here.
There are 13 pitchers still in camp with the Phillies expected to keep 12. Ostensibly, the battle not to be the odd man out include lefties Jeremy Horst and Raul Valdes and righties Phillippe Aumont and Mike Stutes. Horst appears to have a spot locked up thanks to his excellent performance last year and the righting of what had been a tough start to the spring. In his last four Grapefruit League appearances, Horst hasn't allowed a run in 5 1/3 innings and has allowed just two base runners while striking out six. I think Raul Valdes has a spot too because the Phillies seem to view him as an ideal long man. Put it this way, at 13 1/3 innings, he has logged more spring innings than Roy Halladay. That's three more innings than Horst has logged and 5 1/3 more than Stutes has logged. If the Phillies needed somebody to make a spot start, it would be Valdes. I don't get the sense that they view Stutes as having that kind of skill set. Nor does Aumont profile as a long man. Really, Stutes is more in the Chad Durbin, multiple innings mold, which is why I think Aumont has the edge going into these final eight games.
This is the way the bullpen sets up right now:
Ninth inning: Jonathan Papelbon
Eighth inning: Mike Adams
Seventh inning: Antonio Bastardo, RH Reliever TBA, Jeremy Horst
Sixth inning and earlier (or 10th inning and later): Chad Durbin and Raul Valdes
So the Phillies are looking for a RH reliever who can come into a tight game in the seventh inning with the responsibility of retiring anywhere from one to three right-handed batters.
1) Throw strikes
2) Don't get frazzled
3) Be durable enough to pitch back-to-back-to-back and at moment's notice
The Phillies think Aumont is more qualified in the durability department than Stutes, and it makes sense when you look at their body types. But he has given them just enough to think about this spring that they could give Stutes a long look because of his edge in the first two characteristics. Aumont had a tough outing against Italy in his first outing in the WBC. He also started off a recent appearance by walking two straight batters. When your responsibility is to retire one or two batters, often with men on base and/or a lefty warming in the 'pen, you can't afford to walk people.
I've always gotten the sense that the Phillies are hoping that Aumont wins the job decidedly. He has excellent stuff, is a ground ball pitcher, and has huge upside with an impressive frame. Plus, the Phillies would love to be able to say they got themselves an important piece out of that awful Cliff Lee trade in December of 2009. With eight games left, the odds still have Aumont as the favorite to start in the majors, with Stutes in the minors as the next man up. But that can easily change over the last eight games here. You figure each guy will get at least four outings during that span. If Aumont does not throw strikes consistently, the Phillies might not be comfortable taking him into the season, particularly when they could talk themselves into needing a couple of multiple-innings types with Halladay behind the curve in building his regular season strength.
In his last five appearances, Stutes has been impressive: one run with two walks and eight strikeouts in six innings. In Aumont's last two outings, he has walked two and hit a batter with two strikeouts in two innings.
If the two are even down the stretch, I think the edge goes to Aumont. But if Stutes continues to pitch like he has, and Aumont is erratic, I think the edge goes to Stutes.