AROLDIS CHAPMAN. Craig Kimbrel. Dellin Betances. That is the company that Ken Giles keeps. We are talking strikeouts here, not all of the other metrics that measure a reliever's performance. Still, the list is an impressive one. Of the 397 pitchers who have logged at least 25 innings this season, only five have struck out a higher percentage of batters than the Phillies' fire-balling 23-year-old righthander.
Aroldis Chapman, Reds. . . 50.7%
Brad Boxberger, Rays. . . 42.6%
Craig Kimbrel, Braves. . . 41.0%
Andrew Miller, Red Sox/Orioles. . . 40.8%
Dellin Betances, Yankees. . . 39.8%
Ken Giles, Phillies. . . 39.4%
His latest victim with whom you may be familiar was the Mariners' Robinson Cano, who entered his at-bat against Giles on Monday night riding a streak of 70 straight plate appearances without a strikeout. This was the eighth inning, which the Phillies had begun with a 4-0 lead that was now looking tenuous.
Jerome Williams hit the leadoff man with a pitch, prompting Ryne Sandberg to go to the bullpen. At various points throughout the year, the job has belonged to Jake Diekman, and Antonio Bastardo, and Mike Adams. Nobody has performed as well at putting out fires as Giles. Heading into Monday's appearance, only one of the 11 runners that he had inherited had ended up scoring. He had pitched in six save situations, and he had converted the hold in each. Still, things got dicey.
The first batter Giles faced, everlasting bench player Endy Chavez, hit a single. Then, with one out, former top prospect Dustin Ackley sliced a double into leftfield that cut the Phillies lead to 4-1 and brought the tying run to the plate in the form of Cano. The dugout stewed. Sandberg pondered his options. He thought about calling for an intentional walk, though that would have put the tying run at first base. Unconventional? Sure. But Cano was hitting an unconventional .332 with an unconventional zero strikeouts in his last 17 games.
After a brief consultation, pitching coach Bob McClure trotted out to the mound. When the meeting broke, Carlos Ruiz returned to his crouch, and Cano dug into the box.
"He has a history of doing great things," Giles said. "I wasn't going to give him anything good, or anything to swing at."
Cano may have realized this. He appeared to be sitting slider, and when Giles delivered one, he took a ferocious rip, making sharp contact, but yanking the pitch well foul. Giles followed that up with another slider, and Cano followed it with another swing. This one caught nothing but air. So did the next one.
"I just go after whoever is in that box," Giles said. "I don't think about what they did in the past. All that matters is that at-bat and that pitch right there and then. All I do is go after them with my best stuff."
That stuff features a fastball that sits in the high 90s and occasionally touches 100. But it also includes the slider that Giles used to attack Cano. And if you are looking for the keys to his seamless transition to the majors, his development of a second out pitch is near the top of the list. During Giles' brief and unimpressive stint in major league spring training, that slider was rarely seen. It's absence was one of the reasons the Phillies kept Giles in the minor leagues while cycling a litany of replacement-level righthanded relievers through their struggling bullpen.
"That's really improved," Sandberg said. "His slider has come a long way. He's developed it this year before he got here with it. So that was really good. It was a pitch that was a little bit more of a loopy pitch for him. But he's throwing it hard and it looks like the fastball to the hitters."
Giles would finish out the inning without any further damage. Heading into last night's game against the Mariners, his ERA sat at 1.27. He was striking out an average of 13 batters per nine innings, while issuing an average of 1.9 walks per nine innings.
"He keeps his composure out there, he steps off the mound and regains his thought, which is very mature of him and very good," Sandberg said. "And then he gets back up there and seems to make a pitch when he has to, as far as getting ahead in the count. And that's the key for him, getting ahead in the count. Because his breaking pitch, whether he shows it for a strike or it's out of the zone with two strikes, it gets a lot of action, a lot of swings. That's the biggest thing he does, regroups, stays under control, gets back in the strike zone."
In a season that has been short on memorable moments, Giles continues to produce them every time he steps onto the mound.