Aumont learning to live, and pitch, in the moment
After struggling with his control and focusing too much on mistakes, Phillippe Aumont is trying not to worry about the past.
DUNEDIN, Fla. - A month ago, as the first reliever to come out of the bullpen in the first game of the spring schedule, Phillippe Aumont battled his old demons.
He walked the first hitter he faced. And the second one, too.
He stepped off the mound and tried to talk his way through it: "No, Phil, not again."
After the game, Kyle Kendrick and Kevin Frandsen found Aumont, the pitcher with the prized arm but embattled ego, and told him to relax. Forget about the past. Don't concern yourself with the future.
Aumont took their words to heart. He found a Sharpie and quickly inscribed a reminder under the bill of his hat: LIVE IN THE MOMENT.
"Once you throw it," Aumont said, "you can't get it back."
With Opening Day a week away, Aumont and fellow bullpen hopeful Mario Hollands made their latest auditions for jobs yesterday in Dunedin, where the Phillies beat the Toronto Blue Jays, 6-3.
Aumont was the third pitcher in the game, taking over for the lefthanded Hollands with runners on first and second, one out, and the dangerous Jose Bautista at the plate.
Aumont threw a first-pitch strike to Bautista, then fell behind 2-1, then battled back and got the Jays slugger to fly out on a curveball. He was out of the inning one pitch later, getting Adam Lind to turn over a fastball into an easy ground ball to second base.
Aumont slapped his glove in approval.
"He's had confidence with some good outings," manager Ryne Sandberg said. "With his stuff, as long as he gets ahead, works his pitches . . . it could be good."
Aumont, 25, has failed to land a permanent place in the Phillies 'pen in the last 2 years because of his inconsistency, often featuring bouts of wildness. But after clicking with new pitching coach Bob McClure "right off the bat" and picking the brain of guest instructor and former teammate Roy Halladay earlier this spring, Aumont is a new pitcher, of sorts.
He's no longer trying to use his mid-'90s fastball to blow away hitters; he's using his strong sinker to generate weak contact. Aumont has only two strikeouts in 12 innings, but has been able to generate quicker outs; he set the Jays down 1-2-3 in his second inning of work yesterday.
"That's what I'm looking for, that's the new focus - pitch to contact," said Aumont, who has a team-high nine appearances this spring. "That's what I've been doing all spring . . . If I can pitch to contact, I'm going to have a lower pitch count, I'm going to be more fresh every time out there. I'm going to help the team with more innings in an outing. Rather than one [inning], one and change, I can go two [innings], two and change. Just by pitching to contact."
Aumont, who struck out one and walked none in 1 2/3 innings yesterday, has continued to battle inconsistency, but appears to have honed in on a path that eventually will result in more success, more often, too.
Aumont is in a group, with Justin De Fratus, B.J. Rosenberg, Shawn Camp and Hollands, who are competing for what are likely three spots in the bullpen. Jonathan Papelbon, Antonio Bastardo, Jake Diekman and Brad Lincoln are close to locks for jobs, while David Buchanan and Jeff Manship, starters this spring, are possibilities as long men in the pen, but candidates to continue to get stretched out at Triple A, too.
The 25-year-old Hollands has probably consistently drawn the most rave reviews from the coaching staff this spring. Like Aumont, his height can look imposing from the mound (he's 6-5), but unlike Aumont, Hollands has been a strikeout pitcher this spring.
Hollands, who allowed a hit and a walk in 1 1/3 innings yesterday, has racked up 12 strikeouts (and five walks) in 12 1/3 innings.
"He's got some funk to him," Sandberg said. "And I like the way he's handled himself, the composure."
Since Aumont is still a bit of a work in progress and Hollands isn't on the 40-man roster, both have some obstacles toward getting onto the Opening Day roster. But they're still around and under consideration with 3 days until camp breaks.
"If I'm still here, it's a good thing," said Hollands, who bounced between Class A Clearwater and Double A Reading in 2013, primarily as a starter. "Hopefully, I keep it going and continue to throw strikes."
Sandberg said the Phillies are still weighing whether to start the season with a six-man bench or eight-man bullpen, since the team won't need a fifth starter in the rotation until April 13.
Bobby Abreu was unavailable for the second straight day with a sore left shoulder. Ryne Sandberg expects Abreu to be ready for tonight's game in Tampa against the New York Yankees (7:05, MLB Network). The Phillies must decide tomorrow whether to add Abreu to their active roster, or he can exercise an out clause in his contract. The Phillies signed Abreu to a minor league contract in January; he will make $800,000 if he makes the Opening Day roster. Abreu is hitting .257 with four extra-base hits and a .422 OBP in 15 games . . . Infielder Ronny Cedeno, also in camp on a minor league contract, should find out today whether he will be on the Opening Day roster. The Phillies must decide today whether to add him to the roster, give him a $100,000 bonus to go to Triple A, or release him. Cedeno, a defense-first infielder, has a decent shot of sticking, because of his ability to play shortstop. Freddy Galvis is out indefinitely after being treated for a MRSA infection . . . David Buchanan is slated to start Saturday's exhibition finale at Citizens Bank Park against the Pittsburgh Pirates (1:05 p.m.). "From Day 1, when you sign, your goal is to get to the big leagues," Buchanan said. "So having the opportunity to throw at home, in Philly, is a dream come true." Buchanan didn't allow a baserunner in two shutout innings against the Blue Jays . . . Cole Hamels threw a morning bullpen session in Clearwater. He could face hitters in a live bullpen session or possibly pitch in a minor league game before the end of the weekend.