LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. - Justin Upton popped a David Buchanan sinker into the sky, and the 24-year-old Phillies righthander shouted as he descended the Champion Stadium mound. Shortstop Freddy Galvis captured the lazy fly ball. Buchanan, an improbable entrant in the fifth-starter competition this spring, completed three scoreless innings Tuesday against a stacked Braves lineup.
He was disappointed.
"You never like falling behind [the hitters] because you never want to get hurt," Buchanan said. "I was just probably trying to overdo some things instead of keeping it simple. I wasn't too upset, just telling myself to relax and stay smooth."
Buchanan wears No. 78, the highest number assigned to any Phillies player. He was the last minor-league player invited to camp. His spring resumé is six innings long, enough to warrant consideration for a major-league job on a thinned pitching staff.
The Braves were held scoreless with Buchanan on the mound. They exploded for nine runs in the subsequent six innings of a 9-1 victory.
"He's probably the only bright spot," Ryne Sandberg said.
The manager is searching this spring for any semblance of pitching help. Ultimately, the Phillies could fill their need for a fifth starter from outside the organization. Buchanan and 29-year-old nomadic righthander Jeff Manship are the top internal options.
Buchanan never earned distinction on prospect rankings. He throws no harder than 92 m.p.h. and said he does not have a trusted secondary pitch. Still, he fooled the Braves to continue a sharp Grapefruit League showing.
Jason Heyward, red-hot this spring, was the lone Braves hitter to reach base in three innings. He slapped the first pitch Buchanan threw - a 90-m.p.h. sinker - and later walked.
Buchanan, a native Georgian, talks frenetically. He invoked the names of A.J. Burnett, Cliff Lee, and Roy Halladay in three separate stories told in less than four minutes.
"I talked to A.J. Burnett the other day," Buchanan said. "He said pitching is pretty simple. You're up there trying to strike the guy out. He's up there trying to hit a home run. Everything in between takes care of itself."
And there was a dissertation on confidence from Lee.
Said Buchanan: "I asked Cliff, 'How do you have the confidence that you have?' And he just said it's something you have to believe in. So I always believe I can get any hitter out."
His work ethic comes from the "battles" with opposing hitters.
"That's one thing Halladay said," Buchanan recalled. "He said he knew every time he went out there, he worked so hard that he had no doubts. He knew everything he did before the start, that he did everything he could do to prepare. So if you can do all you can do, that's all you can ask from yourself."
Cliches aside, there are limitations to Buchanan's game. His stature (6-foot-3) and repertoire (all sinkers, all the time) draw comparisons to another former seventh-round pick, Kyle Kendrick, who was first summoned in 2007 as a 22-year-old for a spot start. He generated a career from that moment.
Buchanan concluded last season at triple-A Lehigh Valley with six starts and a 3.00 ERA. The Phillies did not protect him from selection in December's Rule 5 draft. All 29 teams passed. So they invited him, along with seven other prospects, to the team's annual winter rookie seminar in Philadelphia. Buchanan was the only one not slated for big-league spring training.
That was rectified before the weeklong program concluded. Now, Buchanan is a real roster aspirant with mounting confidence.
"That's part of spring training, seeing some guys for the first time in this atmosphere," Sandberg said. "It's a long season as far as pitching goes. So he's doing a nice job for himself."