This season, for the rebuilding Phillies, was always about what happened in the minor leagues. The nightly search for encouraging pebbles is easier there than in the majors. When triple-A Lehigh Valley played Monday night at Pawtucket, the familiar positives unfolded.
Rhys Hoskins homered twice and walked once. Cameron Perkins launched a homer. Nick Williams collected two more hits.
And Mark Appel fired 8 1/3 scoreless innings.
No one will proclaim his outing as a watershed moment because Appel’s career is littered with inconsistent results. But Appel is a former No. 1 overall pick, and he pitched Monday like a former No. 1 overall pick, something not often said about the righthander.
These truths remain: Appel has a 5.05 ERA with the IronPigs this season. His strikeout rate is lower and walk rate is higher than in any of his previous minor-league seasons. He’ll turn 26 next month. He is a prospect because he was picked first in the draft, not because of his results on the mound.
But the Phillies have started to push him. He has a 2.25 ERA in his last three starts. He’s thrown 109 pitches or more in each of those games. Sixty percent of his pitches were for strikes, a decent number for Appel. Opponents swung and missed at 11 percent of those pitches, a really good number for Appel.
He started the ninth inning Monday at 102 pitches. He walked Brian Bogusevic, he of the 2015 Phillies, but struck out Sam Travis. Then, former big-leaguer Allen Craig lashed his third single of the night against Appel, and that was all.
It was just the second time in Appel’s 76 professional starts that he threw a pitch in the ninth inning. He struck out eight and walked three in his 8 1/3 innings. It was something to build upon.
There were 46 drafts before Appel went No. 1 to Houston in 2013, and 44 of the first overall picks reached the majors. Brien Taylor (Yankees, 1991) and Steven Chilcott (Mets, 1966) were the only ones who did not. So someone will provide Appel a chance, whether it’s as a starter or reliever. The Phillies saw enough to protect him on the 40-man roster. They’ll need to see more, but Monday was a start.