Aumont auditions for 2013 and impresses
* RP Phillippee Aumont (Gatineau, Que.) has been dominant since joining the Philadelphia Phillies bullpen, pitching a scoreless eighth in a 7-5 win over the Miami Marlins Tuesday night ….
By Todd Devlin
Phillipe Aumont understands the importance of pitching well this September. As the Philadelphia Phillies continue their push for a wild card spot, the 23-year-old will be making a push of his own — for a spot on the team in 2013.
If early returns are any indication, he is well on his way.
Since being called up on Aug. 21, the right-hander has posted a 1.23 ERA in eight relief appearances, striking out eight in 7 1/3 innings and picking up his first major league save along the way.
In other words, it has been a solid audition so far for Aumont, who entered the year as Philadelphia’s fifth-best prospect according to Baseball America.
“I want to make a good first impression and get guys out,” he said in a recent phone interview from Philadelphia. “That’s pretty much it for this month. I don’t have any goals as far as numbers.”
The Gatineau, Que. native does have one goal in mind though: not returning to the minor leagues. It took longer than expected for the former 11th overall pick to reach the majors, and now his plan is to stick.
“Your ultimate goal is to go to the big leagues,” said Aumont, who has enjoyed experiencing the Phillies clubhouse. “There are a lot of veterans here, and everybody is about business. It’s all about working here … guys are getting paid a lot of money to win.”
That is something the Phillies have been doing more recently, as the club has gone 14-4 since Aug. 23, the day Aumont made his major league debut. As of Tuesday, Philadelphia was four games back of a wild card spot.
From a personal standpoint, Aumont says he knows what he needs to do to help the team down the stretch: throw strikes and keep opponents off the bases.
“I think it plays a big role if you go out there and throw a lot of strikes,” he said. “And it definitely improves the chances of me staying here and doing well.”
It’s been so far, so good in that department at the major league level for the big righty, who has issued two walks in his seven appearances. Both he and the Phillies will be paying close attention to his command over the final three weeks, however, as it was a major reason he was passed over previously for a promotion.
When he’s throwing strikes, Aumont can be dominant. His fastball gets into the mid-90s with ease, and he mixes in a very good curveball. Both pitches were ranked tops in the Phillies system heading into 2012 by Baseball America. That’s the type of pitcher Philadelphia saw back in December of 2009 when they acquired Aumont – along with J.C. Ramirez and fellow Canadian Tyson Gillies (Vancouver, BC) – for left-hander Cliff Lee.
But it’s not the pitcher they got in 2010, as the right-hander struggled in his first season with Philadelphia. Feeling a bit of added pressure, Aumont stumbled to a 1-6 record and a 7.43 ERA in 11 starts at double-A Reading, walking as many hitters (38) as he struck out. At class-A Clearwater, he was 2-5 with a 4.48 ERA. The subpar performance followed a pair of seasons in the Mariners system in which he had posted a combined 3.29 ERA and 109 strikeouts in 106 2/3 innings after Seattle had made him the third-highest drafted Canadian pitcher (behind Adam Loewen and Jeff Francis) and first Quebec first-rounder in MLB history back in 2007.
But something seemed to click when Aumont was moved from starter back to reliever near the end of the 2010 season. He carried the momentum into 2011 and found consistent success out of the bullpen for the first time. Entering this season, the right-hander says he was more comfortable than he’d ever been.
“This was the first time I’d gone back-to-back as a reliever,” he said. “I went starter, reliever, starter and then reliever again.”
At Lehigh Valley this year, he was 3-1 with a 4.26 ERA, 15 saves and 59 strikeouts in 44 1/3 innings before earning a call-up on August 23 to replace left-hander Jeremy Horst who went on paternity leave. When Horst returned two days later, it was rookie right-hander Michael Schwimer — and not Aumont — that went sent down to Triple-A.
That allowed the Gatineau native to make his major league debut the same day against Cincinnati, as he pitched a scoreless eighth inning in a game the Phillies went on to win 4-3 in 11 innings. Aumont says the moment didn’t sink in until he had recorded two outs.
“After I got the second out, I walked around the mound and that’s when it really hit me,” he said. “I was in the big leagues and in the middle of Citizens Bank Park in front of 40,000 people.”
Lehigh Valley manager Ryne Sandberg, who is serving as a coach with the Phillies this month, thinks Aumont has what it takes to be successful in the major leagues.
“He’s got two Major League pitches [in his fastball and curveball],” Sandberg told mlb.com earlier this year. “For him, it’s consistency and having enough seasoning … just to be able to repeat what he does on the mound each time he goes out.”
Joe Jordan, the Phillies director of player development, has similar belief in Aumont’s potential.
“He’s one of the guys we’re counting on,” Jordan said. “He’s truly got a chance to be a special guy at the back end of the bullpen.”
Now, Aumont is in tryout mode. While he’s focused on doing whatever he can to help the Phillies in 2012, he also has his sights set on 2013.
“Definitely,” he said. “Next year I’m going to come in ready and try to be a big part of this team.”