When Michael Stutes arrived at Lehigh Valley after his promotion from Double-A Reading, he arrived with a streak of 6 2/3 shutout innings. In his first two outings with the IronPigs, he extended his streak to an even nine innings before hitting an obstacle in a bad outing against Durham.
Since then though, Stutes has bounced right back and now has another 5 2/3 innings of shutout work to his credit. His performance has put him squarely into a trusted role in the Lehigh Valley bullpen. Coming into the middle of a jam for Lehigh Valley Wednesday night, Stutes initially gave up a walk, but then ended the Pawtucket threat by picking up a strikeout to end the inning. He followed that up with a 1-2-3 inning that saw him pick up strikeouts through the middle of the Pawtucket order.
“I’m just trying to go out there and work on the routine that I established at Double-A. I’m still new to this relieving thing, so I’m just trying to continue to learn and continue to grow,” explained Stutes about his approach to getting hitters out.
After making 40 minor league starts in his career, the Phillies shifted Stutes to the bullpen this season and he’s taken well to the change. Between Reading and Lehigh Valley, the 23-year-old right-hander is 4-0 with a 4.15 ERA, which is only that high because of his one bad outing with Lehigh Valley.
The learning is continuing for Stutes, who has corrected a flaw in his delivery that was caught by Lehigh Valley pitching coach Rod Nichols. “I’m staying closer longer and staying over my toes rather than falling back on my heels when I’m going toward the plate and it’s allowed me to command the ball more on both sides of the plate.” The change in his mechanics showed in his latest outing, where Stutes danced his pitches in and out against hitters to set them up.
Lehigh Valley has also been a learning experience for Stutes, who is surrounded by more experienced relievers in the bullpen and he’s taken the chance to learn how to go about pitching as a reliever from some of the more veteran members of the club.
“I’ve got a chance to be around guys up here who have done this [pitched in relief] for a while and I feel like it’s starting to rub off on me,” said Stutes.
It’s likely that Stutes will spend the rest of the season at Lehigh Valley and it wouldn’t be too surprising for him to return there to start the 2011 season. At some point in the next year or so though, he’ll be pushing for a spot with the big league club, once he becomes one of those more experienced relievers that other pitchers will be trying to learn from.