TAMPA, Fla. - As if anybody needed a reminder of righthander Kyle Drabek's youth, the 2006 first-round draft pick beamed when asked if, as it appeared, he has grown taller over the last 2 years.
Turns out, Drabek has sprouted 2 inches since most Phillies fans last saw him pitching against major league hitters, as he did yesterday in an 8-5 loss to the Yankees at Steinbrenner Field.
But the 21-year-old's 6-2 frame isn't the only thing that looks closer to major league ready. Although his outing against the Yankees ended after he allowed a two-run home run to Mark Teixeira and then loaded the bases in the third inning, Drabek impressed the Phillies with the way he pitched against what figures to be one of the more potent lineups in the American League.
"He showed a good arm," manager Charlie Manuel said after Drabek was charged with five runs - four earned - on five hits in 2 1/3 innings. "With some more experience, he is going to be very good."
The Phillies opted to give Drabek the start in their second-to-last Grapefruit League game for several reasons. First and foremost, they had an opening, thanks to their decision to send top pitching prospect Carlos Carrasco to the minor leagues earlier this week. But the Phillies also wanted to give Drabek a reward for his impressive return from Tommy John surgery, which sidelined him for all but the final few weeks of last season, and give him a taste of the type of hitters they hope he will someday face.
"The first pitch was kind of scary," said Drabek, who went on to retire Derek Jeter on a dribbler back to the mound. "I didn't know what was going to happen, especially with Jeter up there."
The Phillies were thrilled when they were able to nab Drabek with the 18th pick of the 2006 draft, believing they secured a prospect who had fallen thanks to some character issues that plagued him during his standout career at The Woodlands (Texas) High School. The son of former veteran big leaguer Doug Drabek, he went 5-1 with a 4.33 ERA as a 19-year-old at Class A Lakewood in 2007. But he suffered an elbow injury in his 11th appearance of the season that required the Tommy John surgery. After missing most of last year, he made four starts apiece for the Gulf Coast League Phillies and at low-Class A Williamsport. Drabek, who went on to pitch well for a winter-league team in Hawaii, credits his rehabilitation for straightening himself out both off the field and on the mound.
"Before the surgery, I was a little wild," he said. "I was kind of all over the place. I think the surgery helped me mature a lot."
After his outing yesterday, the Phillies are hopeful that the maturing - and growing - will one day result in a more permanent home with the big-league club.
The Phillies are believed to be one of at least three teams who have expressed serious interest in signing recently released right-handed slugger Gary Sheffield. Tigers manager Jim Leyland told reporters yesterday that the 40-year-old Sheffield was mulling three teams. The Phillies continue to have strong interest in bringing in the outfielder to fill a void they feel they have when it comes to a righthanded power bat on the bench, but they are unable to negotiate with him until he clears wavers at 1 p.m. today.
A new catcher
Wander over to the Carpenter Complex this afternoon and you might find yourself asking, "Who is that masked man?" If you arrive for the right inning or two, the answer will be Phillies utility man Eric Bruntlett, who is getting a tryout this spring as the team's emergency catcher. Bruntlett caught a bullpen session from righthander Joe Blanton Tuesday and had his catching equipment in the dugout at Steinbrenner Field yesterday.
Jayson Werth, who was drafted as a catcher, has been the team's emergency catcher the last two seasons. But because of Werth's new role as the Phillies' everyday rightfielder, Bruntlett likely will wind up the guy. If Bruntlett were to get into a game as a catcher this season - the only way that would happen is if both Carlos Ruiz and Chris Coste go down with injuries - it would give him the distinction of having played eight of the nine positions on the field at some point during his 6-year career.
But don't expect him to ever accomplish all nine.
"I'm not going to pitch," he said. "I'm not doing that one."
Veteran lefthander Jamie Moyer will start the Phillies' Grapefruit League finale today at Bright House Field. Moyer is scheduled to make his regular-season debut against the Braves on April 7 . . . Jayson Werth hit his sixth home run of the spring yesterday, while Jimmy Rollins went 2-for-3 to raise his spring average to .355 . . . Closer Brad Lidge pitched in his first back-to-back games of the spring . . . The Phillies have set an attendance record at Bright House Field, attracting 128,417 fans this spring . . . The Phillies have acquired minor league starter Manny Ayala, 24, from the Padres for a player to be named. *
For more Phillies coverage and opinion, read David Murphy's blog, High Cheese, at http://go.philly.com/highcheese.