READING - Kyle Drabek's new boss was worried about the young righthander getting past his first pitch at Double A.
Reading Phillies manager Steve Roadcap was concerned that, with the big-league brass in the stands, sitting in Drabek's sight line just over the umpire's right shoulder, Drabek might be shaky in the first inning. Roadcap had Drabek in Class A Lakewood in 2007, when Drabek was injured.
Those were valid concerns for a 21-year-old first-round pick known for his fiery disposition, less than 2 years removed from elbow surgery, moving from the high Class A Clearwater Threshers to Double A Reading after 10 starts this season.
The concerns were unwarranted. Drabek's first pitch was a 99 mph fastball blown past Akron Aeros leadoff hitter Jose Costanza, whom Drabek fanned three pitches later on a biting curveball.
It was the first of four strikeouts over seven shutout innings and 97 pitches, during which Drabek gave up three hits and three walks. His fastball was, at times, impressive, his curveball often tight, his changeup - well - it was thrown. The R-Phils won, 6-1, and he got the win.
"He should be proud of this," Phillies general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. said. "He still has some things to work on. Some things to learn. But he threw strikes. He was poised."
And overpowering, right?
Maybe not. The radar gun at FirstEnergy Stadium is a few mph hot; another, more reliable gun showed his first pitch at 95. But Drabek at least stayed in the mid-90s.
It took Drabek five pitches before he froze the second batter, Carlos Rivero, on a 97 mph (93?) fastball on the outside corner.
Then Drabek hit the pedigreed meat of the Aeros' lineup for the first of three times. He did not get through without incident.
"I knew they were definitely good," Drabek said.
Drabek dealt a high, 0-2 fastball to Beau Mills, the Indians' No. 5 prospect, then hung a curveball, which Mills pulled to rightfield.
Drabek, now pitching out of the stretch, walked top prospect Carlos Santana on five pitches, one of them a passed ball that sent to Mills to second. Drabek dropped a 1-2 curve in the dirt that sent Mills to third.
That brought out catcher Paul Bako, the 36-year-old veteran of 11 seasons in the majors, including all of 2007 and 2008.
Drabek was a different pitcher after that visit. At 2-2, he got a foul ball then a weak flyout to rightfield.
"He just told me to throw through him, basically," Drabek said. A message Drabek needed? "I did."
Pitching more to contact and to the strike zone, Drabek, who threw 24 pitches in the first inning, needed only eight pitches to exit a clean second with two weak popouts and a feeble grounder. Six pitches, three ground balls, and his third inning was over; he had thrown first-pitch strikes to eight of 11 hitters.
Mills led off the fourth, and walked, finally, on eight pitches - none in the strike zone. Santana crushed a 2-0 fastball into a stiff rightfield wind, which held it up and inside the park for an out. Jared Goedert lined one the same way, with the same result. Drabek stranded Mills on a grounder by Nicholas Weglarz.
Mills clobbered one off the leftfield wall in the sixth, but Michael Taylor's strong throw to second erased Mills, who tried for a double. Drabek then walked Santana with two outs but retired Goedert.
His last inning might have been his sharpest. He set up Weglarz with a changeup before fanning him with a 94 mph fastball, then used a pair of curveballs to strike out Josh Drennan, the last batter he faced.
"I'd say they got better as the game went on," Drabek said of his offspeed pitches. "I didn't try to do too much."
He didn't notice Amaro and team adviser Dallas Green, he said, but he knew Dickie Noles was in the stands. Noles is the team's employee assistance professional, and, as such, he has gotten to know Drabek well, especially since Drabek entered the organization with a deserved reputation as something of a hellraiser.
"We've had a few dinners," Drabek said, smiling.
The elbow surgery in 2007 helped mature Drabek as much as anything. The Phillies noticed. Amaro said Drabek's performance this season - a 4-1 record with a 2.48 ERA in with 74 strikeouts, most in the Florida State League, in 61 2/3 innings - led to his promotion. It had nothing to do with the domino effect of Brett Myers' hip injury, which, Amaro said, was coincidental to the timing of Drabek's move.
As Drabek stood in front of a dozen reporters - about three times the normal Reading Phillies contingent and about 12 times what Drabek usually saw in Florida - he seemed wide-eyed.
He's the son of 1990 Cy Young Award winner Doug Drabek, the former Pirates star. He was the 18th overall pick. He signed for $1.55 million.
He might, indeed, have been "really surprised" to be promoted in early June, but this comes with the territory.
By the time he'd toweled off the chilling rain that fell on the 60-degree night, his famous father, listening via the Internet at home in Texas, had already texted his congratulations.
Things didn't go as glowingly the last time Drabek stepped up.
Drabek started for the major league club against the Yankees at the end of spring training. He gave up five runs and got seven outs . . . and left his handlers gushing. They saw what he might be. Two months later, it looks as if they were right.
Ruben Amaro Jr. said his visit to Reading already had been scheduled, since he was planning to watch Paul Bako catch last night. Bako is 9-for-26 in six games. *