Hot-hitting Rizzotti is turning some heads

Matt Rizzotti is on a hot streak for the Reading Phillies. (David Swanson / Staff Photographer)

Matt Rizzotti's listed position earlier this season at single-A Clearwater was designated hitter.

That might be OK if Clearwater were an American League affiliate, but, of course, it is not. It is a member of the Phillies' farm system and, unless a change in rules is on the horizon, Rizzotti is going to be required to play a position in the field if he ever gets to the big leagues with the team that selected him in the sixth round of the 2007 draft.

This is good news for Rizzotti for one reason: The Long Island native is hitting so well in the minor leagues this season that the big leagues have become a distinct possibility.

"He couldn't be any hotter," said Chuck LaMar, the Phillies' assistant general manager in charge of player development. "I think he's turning heads not only in our organization but outside the organization."

Rizzotti, a sixth-round draft pick in 2007, spent all of the 2009 season in Clearwater, then was asked to return to the Florida State League at the start of this season. He earned his promotion to Reading by hitting .358 with eight doubles, a home run and 10 RBIs in 31 games at Clearwater.

Since arriving at Reading, he has had the biggest power surge of his professional career while also continuing to hit for a high average. Through Thursday, the 6-foot-5, 265-pound lefthanded hitter was batting .359 with 13 doubles, 10 home runs and 33 RBIs in 38 games.

"Power is usually the last tool to develop in a lot of players, but I am surprised he's dominating double-A baseball as much as he has since the move," LaMar said.

Reading manager Steve Roadcap also managed Rizzotti, now 24, at single-A Lakewood in 2008 and said he sees a different player now.

"He's a lot stronger and he has made some adjustments to some balls in," Roadcap said. "He's done some things with getting stronger and that's a credit to him."

LaMar said minor-league field coordinator Mike Compton stressed the importance of improved conditioning to Rizzotti and he worked hard this off-season with Shawn Fcasni, the team's minor-league conditioning coordinator.

As for the power surge, Rizzotti said he's trying not to complicate his approach.

"I've just been trying to keep it simple at the plate and not trying to hit home runs, and I think when you do that you take thinking about home runs out of your game," he said. "As a hitter, the best thing you can do is take thinking out of your game and let your hands free and it just seems as if balls have been going over the wall."

In his last eight games before Friday, he hit .533 (16 for 30) with five home runs and 15 RBIs.

With his swing in good working order, Rizzotti must now focus on his defense at first base.

"He needs to continue to work on his agility and he knows that," Roadcap said. "He comes out here and works hard. If you watch batting practice, he comes out here and takes his ground balls and works on things. His throwing is a little bit below average, but if you look at the big leagues, there aren't many first basemen who throw real well. He works at it and as long as he continues to work at it . . . he'll be going in the right direction."

Rizzotti conceded he didn't worry too much about his defense at Clearwater.

"When I was down in Clearwater, it was one of those things I wasn't too concerned with," he said. "I knew if they ever promoted me to double A that I'd have to play some games at first. I absolutely have to work on my defense. For some reason, the hitting is coming a little quicker this year and the defense is something I need to work on."

Savery moved to bullpen. Lefthander Joe Savery, the Phillies' first-round pick in 2007, has been moved to the bullpen at Lehigh Valley after going 1-7 with a 5.15 ERA in 13 starts.


Contact staff writer Bob Brookover at 215-854-2577