Welcome to the first edition of my new feature: Ghosts of Phillies Past.
I wanted to illustrate the greatness of the current Phillies era, especially when compared to the franchise’s mostly sorry history. In these days of division titles, four aces and consecutive home sellouts, it might be easy to forget that the team’s outlook was not always so bright.
So I will take a (hopefully) weekly look at a current Phillie who has excelled, and also discuss a similar player from the past who didn’t quite encounter the same levels of success.
Featured Phillie of the Week
This week’s featured Phillie is relief pitcher Michael Stutes.
Stutes has been one of the Phillies most dependable relievers this season. Despite starting the season in the minors, Stutes has already appeared in 24 games with an excellent 2.38 ERA. More importantly, manager Charlie Manuel seems to trust him as a late inning option, and he has come through in several high pressure situations.
This past week’s series in Seattle was a homecoming for the Oregon native, and he celebrated by pitching a scoreless inning and picking up the win in Saturday night’s victory over the Mariners.
He was less effective in Tuesday night’s game against the Cardinals, as he gave up a run. However, the Phillies went on to score nine runs in the bottom of the eighth inning, and as a result, Stutes earned his second win of the week.
Ghost of Phillies Past: Toby Borland
In comparison, I’ll take a look at another young Phillies reliever who was once thrust into a key bullpen spot.
Originally called up in the strike shortened 1994 season, right-handed reliever Toby Borland didn’t impress anyone at first. He seemed to have control issues and could seemingly be counted on for at least one walked batter in every appearance.
The next season, after an ineffective start to the season, he was sent back to the minor leagues. While in the minors, his coaches worked on improving his control. One exercise they tried was to place a glove on a post on top of home plate. Borland was instructed to practice simply hitting the glove with his pitches.
Amazingly, this exercise drastically improved his control. When he returned to the big league club in 1995, his control was good enough that he became an effective reliever. By season’s end, he was appearing in late-game situations, often as the team’s main setup man.
In 1996, the team hoped his success would continue, and he began the season as the team’s primary setup reliever. Unfortunately, the improved control he had shown the year before abandoned him. Part of the problem may have been that the 1996 Phillies were a bad team, and part of the problem may have been that Borland had simply overachieved the previous season.
Regardless of the cause, Borland’s tenure with the team ended after the 1996 season. He stayed in the league a few more years, and even wound up back with the Phillies in 1998, but his second stint with the club was even less remarkable than his first.
Fun fact: Borland is the last Phillies player to wear No. 42 before it was retired league wide in honor of Jackie Robinson.
With the injuries suffered by Brad Lidge and Jose Contreras, Stutes’ emergence has been a key to the team’s success thus far. We can only hope that he is able to continue to excel and not quickly flame out like Borland did.
Originally published on my blog: Stranger in a Strange Land
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