SARASOTA, Fla. - Players who didn’t make the trip to Dunedin today might have to move their workouts indoors at the Ed Smith Stadium complex. The rain that’s been falling all morning picked up in intensity, shifting into downpour territory around 9 a.m.
It’s finally let up, but the fields are soaked.
Reliever Evan Phillips boarded the bus and is scheduled to pitch against the Blue Jays while trying to extend a scoreless streak that’s reached seven innings over his six appearances. He’s allowed six hits, walked two batters and struck out six.
No clean innings in the batch, but also no runs.
Count Phillips, 24, among the pitchers getting a nice return on the data supplied by an analytics-driven organization. He’s poured over the video obtained through the high-speed Edgertronic cameras set up behind the mounds on one of the back fields. The most noticeable difference is the effectiveness of a slider that’s his primary secondary pitch after the four-seam fastball.
Phillips needed a change after coming to the Orioles in the Kevin Gausman/Darren O’Day trade with the Braves and posting an 18.56 ERA and 2.438 WHIP in five appearances. He walked six batters in 5 1/3 innings.
“I’m feeling great. The confidence level is really high,” he said.
“Coming into spring training this year, it feels like a fresh start for me. The way I finished last year, obviously the numbers on the field didn’t look great and there’s a lot of factors that contribute to that. I think I was fighting myself on a lot of things, trying to do certain things on the mound that maybe I don’t really excel at.
“I think coming into spring training, I really focused on sticking to what I do best and this staff has been really supportive with that and helpful, tweaking some things and keeping what I do best on the field at all times. Using the slow-mo cameras to really nail down my slider, fastball grips, things like that, to really help me stay consistent, and I think that was a big issue last year was inconsistency. So coming into spring with a fresh start and healthy - I’m obviously healthy - and having a consistent feel for my pitches on the mound, I’ve had a lot of success so far.”
Talking about it probably makes him a little nervous. Don’t want to do anything to slow his roll.
“I don’t want to jinx anything,” he said. “But I’ve also had a good amount of luck, as well. Some double plays, some caught stealings by the catcher. (Andrew) Susac has made some good throws, (Carlos) Pérez made a great throw the other day. Those are the things I can’t really control, but as long as I’m feeling healthy and I’m out there trusting my stuff, it’s all I can do.”
Phillips was charged with 11 earned runs and 13 total in his 5 1/3 innings with the Orioles. He faced four batters twice without recording an out.
“I was just trying to do too much with my slider,” he said. “I think that was a big part of it. Obviously, in the major leagues, you can’t just throw one pitch. You’ve got to give them a different look. And I was really fighting myself with what I wanted to do with my breaking ball and where I wanted to throw it.
“Coming into spring, I stuck with something this offseason, stuck with a certain grip that works, and then the slow-mo cameras proved my point with my breaking ball, so it’s just been really consistent so far and it’s getting guys out, so hopefully we continue that.”
Phillips hadn’t been introduced to the Edgertronic cameras until spring training. He used the Rapsodo device, which shows the trace of the ball, velocity and spin, during offseason workouts at a training facility near his home in Wilmington, N.C. The slow-motion camera presents, as Phillips put it, “the real-life version of that.”
“I saw one thing on the slow-mo camera,” he said. “It was a discrepancy between my two different slider grips, and the one that’s working showed really well on the camera, so that really turned on a lightbulb in my head and told me I should stick with it and just continue to let it rip. And that’s what I’ve been doing so far and it’s really been working out.”
Maybe to the point where the Salisbury, Md., native actually breaks camp with the team, which seemed like a longshot back in early February. The Orioles could carry an extra reliever on opening day before needing a fifth starter.
“I have no idea,” he said. “There’s a lot of competition and we have a lot of great pitchers here, a lot of guys fighting for the same kind of roles, and I’m pulling for all of them. I wish there was a way for all of us to make the team, but it’s simply not going to happen.
“I wish the best for all of us and whoever comes out of this, congratulations to them and I wish the best for all these guys.”
Note: MASNsports.com’s Steve Melewski is handling the game coverage today. I’m back with the team on Sunday.