The shuttle carried reliever Evan Phillips to Baltimore for Thursday’s doubleheader against the Rays. Then it transported him back to the alternate camp site in Bowie, his status as the 29th man pretty much ensuring that his stay would be brief.
He has the route memorized.
Phillips was gone, but not forgotten or ignored. The Orioles recalled him again yesterday and he tossed two more scoreless innings.
They were intrigued by the four batters faced and four strikeouts on 17 pitches in Game 2, which led to his next opportunity last night. He hasn’t surrendered a run in his last nine appearances, a streak dating back to Aug. 8 because of his frequent trips to Prince George’s Stadium.
The ERA has been whittled to 3.14 in 14 1/3 innings, but the 1.541 WHIP he carried from the bullpen last night suggested that he could use more clean outings.
They’re getting a lot better.
Phillips retired the side in order in the seventh last night with two strikeouts. He needed three pitches - a slider, changeup and 96 mph fastball - to dispose of Brandon Lowe. He surrendered a bloop single in the eighth and struck out two more on 95 mph fastballs.
The 11.7 strikeouts per nine innings before last night were impressive. The 5.8 walks indicated that the lapses in control aren’t in the past.
Phillips, 26, wasn’t charged with a run in an Aug. 16 game against the Nationals at Camden Yards, but he walked four batters, hit one and threw a wild pitch, and the Orioles optioned him to Bowie.
There was no similarity to the pitcher who mowed down the Rays on Thursday and again last night.
Phillips replaced Dillon Tate in the fifth inning of Game 2 and struck out Hunter Renfroe to strand a runner. Lowe took a called third strike leading off the sixth and Phillips got Mike Brosseau and Willy Adames swinging.
The four-seam fastball averaged 96 mph per BrooksBaseball.net, just a tick above his norm this season. But it’s ultimately going to be the secondary stuff that enables Phillips to stay longer than one game. Like he broke out last night.
“I saw a guy who came in just calm,” pitching coach Doug Brocail said Friday during his Zoom conference call. “And this is nothing that he doesn’t know. We need him to continue to be on an even keel. If he doesn’t have his pitch, his split, he doesn’t have to throw it. This is somebody who has one of the better sliders in the game and we don’t get to see it because he’s not up here.
“I think if you were to talk to him, because this is what he tells me and this is what we see, when he gets in trouble he goes fastball, fastball, fastball, fastball, fastball. If you saw as many fastballs as these guys see when we’re in trouble, you’d be able to hit them, too. There’s nobody who doesn’t hit a good fastball nowadays. It’s mixing in your slider, it’s mixing in your off-speed, even when you don’t have it.
“Deano (Kremer) didn’t have his curveball the other day, but he kept throwing it, and was smart enough to go to his slider. So we talked (Thursday) night when the game was over and I was like, ‘Man, that was good stuff.’ And he goes, ‘You know, I’ve seen a lot of sliders. That might be one of the better sliders in the big leagues.’ Well, we never get to see it because he’s never in the opportunity to throw it. Well, (Thursday) night when he was ahead, he got to utilize it.
“All these kids have to realize, you don’t have to throw strike one with a fastball, and that’s the buy-in that we need is guys to start trusting their stuff and going on the attack with their best stuff, whether it be a first-pitch slider, first-pitch split, first-pitch hammer. It doesn’t matter as long as we can stay in the zone and stay ahead. Because when we’re behind, we’re not a very good pitching staff.”
The return on the trade that sent pitchers Kevin Gausman and Darren O’Day to the Braves hasn’t been impactful at the major league level beyond shedding salary. Phillips hasn’t done more than show brief flashes of his potential. Baltimore native Bruce Zimmermann made his debut in Game 2 and could break camp next spring in the rotation.
Dealing away relievers Mychal Givens and Miguel Castro opened doors for unproven relievers like Phillips. He left the ballpark and an impression Thursday night.
The kind that gets you back to Baltimore.
“That was the best I’ve seen Evan Phillips,” manager Brandon Hyde said Friday afternoon. “He had some good appearances last year, but that was four punchouts, under 20 pitches in an inning-plus. I just loved the life to his fastball, and his slider, he was landing it.
“Evan, for me, has never been about stuff, it’s been about command and it’s about pitching ahead in the count in the strike zone, and that’s what he did. He attacked from the first hitter on, went through four batters with his stuff playing in the strike zone, and rewarded with four punchouts. So great to see that from Evan.”
Hyde also said he hoped that Phillips would be back “soon.”
It didn’t take long.