CLEARWATER, Fla. — After Rich Dubee saw Jake Diekman throw off a mound for the first time in February, the pitching coach was smitten. He saw vast promise from the 25-year-old's left arm, and a deceptive delivery that had catcher Carlos Ruiz raving.
Dubee pulled Diekman aside that day, offered a few pointers, and watched as Diekman did nothing but impress in Grapefruit League play. On Tuesday, he told Diekman he was headed back to the minors.
"I asked him first if he had an agent," Dubee said. "He told me he did. I said, 'Fire him. Because I'll jump on and be your agent and hopefully I'll be able to retire soon.' I think he's got tremendous upside. Seriously. That's what I told him. I expect to see him this year. If the call comes, I expect him to be ready."
Diekman was among three pitching cuts Tuesday; righthander Brian Sanches and lefthander Scott Elarton were reassigned to minor-league camp.
The Phillies now have 14 healthy pitchers in camp to fill 11 or 12 spots. Dubee said the team has not decided how many pitchers it will carry north, but 11 is realistic because the team does not need a fifth starter until April 15 and could use Joe Blanton in the bullpen.
Whatever bullpen the Phillies begin the season with is subject to change, especially given all of the useful parts at Lehigh Valley. Diekman is one of them, despite having never pitched above double A. This spring put him on Dubee's radar.
In five Grapefruit League innings, Diekman struck out nine and walked one. He allowed one unearned run on two hits.
Dubee said Diekman didn't make his team because "he's not ready yet." Namely, the pitching coach sees more regular work for Diekman at triple A than the majors in April. But down the road, Dubee expects to see Diekman.
His fastball reaches 96 and 97 m.p.h. regularly, but the development must occur with Diekman's slider and change-up. That was Dubee's message after the first bullpen in February and it hasn't changed.
"He looked like a big-leaguer the whole spring," Dubee said. "I think he left here riding pretty high, so hopefully that will continue."
Diekman said he was tinkering with the slider because it had been loopy at times. He adopted a new grip to throw the pitch harder. Throwing it enough for strikes to make it a dangerous pitch out of the zone is Diekman's chief goal.
"I feel like it's coming along pretty well," he said.
Depending on Jose Contreras' health, the Phillies could have as few as one spot to fill in the bullpen or as many as three. If they take 11 pitchers with Contreras included, that leaves only one job for the group of Mike Stutes, David Herndon, Joe Savery and Raul Valdes. Stutes is the favorite. All four can be sent to the minors.
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