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Phillies Insights: Justin De Fratus leans on his faith

Justin De Fratus, baseball player. That was his identity. De Fratus was pretty good, too. The Phillies drafted him in 2007, and he excelled in the minor leagues. The righthander was considered one of the team's top pitching prospects.

Justin De Fratus, baseball player. That was his identity.

De Fratus was pretty good, too. The Phillies drafted him in 2007, and he excelled in the minor leagues. The righthander was considered one of the team's top pitching prospects.

Then a right elbow strain in March 2012 cost him the first five months of a season in which he hoped to transition from prospect to major leaguer. The injury, he said, led to an identity crisis: Who are you and what are you supposed to be in this world?

"When that's taken from you, you start to realize, 'Well, shoot, I'm still here. There has to be a bigger purpose,' " De Fratus said. "For me, I found it in faith. It was just a matter of finding a true identity and not letting baseball be me. It's just a fraction of who I am."

The Phillies relief pitcher grew up in Oxnard, Calif., and was raised Roman Catholic. He said he was not sure what he believed and what he did not. The injury allowed De Fratus to dig deeper. He did not want, he said, to go "into it blindly or accepting it just because that's how I was raised."

The journey helped him persevere through the most trying time of his career.

"If it wasn't for that, I would've gone crazy," De Fratus said. "Sometimes it takes those types of things to get you to the right place."

De Fratus' initial task was to answer a question proposed to him by a classmate in high school: If God is all good and all powerful, then why is there suffering? A good question, De Fratus said.

He found his answer by reading books from Christian authors such as C.S. Lewis, attending Mass, and setting aside time for personal reflection. The answer, he said, is a person's free will. Humans, not God, created suffering and evil, De Fratus said.

De Fratus returned to the majors for the final month of the 2012 season. He made the opening-day roster last year for the first time in his career. He set career highs in innings (522/3) and strikeouts (49). He was demoted to the minors in April and returned a month later. He did not allow a run in 42 of his 50 appearances after being recalled.

De Fratus entered this spring training as a key thread of the Phillies bullpen, one of the team's biggest strengths.

His relationship with Christ, De Fratus said, brought him peace. In turn, he said, he has become a better teammate and friend.

"I like the person that Christ made me. I understand that may be backwards because the real goal is to live your life for him," De Fratus said. "But while I was doing that, it in turn made my life more fulfilling."

De Fratus' left arm is marked by three religious tattoos. The Chi Rho cross is inked on his hand. Another cross is tattooed on his forearm with the words "everything is grace." The words are taken from the song "Beggars" by Southern California rock band Thrice.

The song says that everything in the world is a gift and a person cannot claim anything as his or her own. De Fratus had the tattoo done two years ago in Las Vegas. Each letter is lowercase to remind him to stay humble.

"Uppercase is kind of a pompous thing. Like, 'I deserve to be uppercase,' " he said. "So I put everything lowercase as a reminder that I am nothing. Everything is grace; everything is a gift."

A little bit higher on his arm reads "just pedal" in cursive. It is a phrase De Fratus picked up from former first baseman Mike Sweeney, who like De Fratus is involved in an organization called Catholic Athletes for Christ. It means to treat life as if you're riding a tandem bicycle. De Fratus said his job is to sit on the back seat and pedal.

"My job is not to steer through life," he said. "My job is to keep going. Keep doing the right things. Keep being a good person. Keep showing other people God's love. And God's job is to steer. He will be leading me into the right direction."

De Fratus said his search for answers is never over. One day, he thinks he found them. The next day, the answer is gone. That's the cool thing about faith, he said.

De Fratus' ability to find his identity outside of baseball has relieved some of the sport's pressure. De Fratus said he used to come to the ballpark trying to please a lot of people instead of trying to please God.

"It's about making pitches and recognizing what I need to do to do that," De Fratus said. "And then trusting in the fact if I do things I'm supposed to do - treat others with respect, keep God first - then everything else is going to fall the way it should."

On his Twitter page, De Fratus lists in his bio that he is a "Phillies bullpen member." But in front of that description he wrote "Catholic."

He no longer sees himself as just a baseball player.

For Phillies' Slowey, newborn brings perspective

Kevin Slowey was without a team midway through last season once the Miami Marlins released him in June.

He returned home to Pittsburgh and talked with his wife, Leigh, who was five months pregnant with the couple's first child.

"My most important responsibility is to my family and I wanted to be there for my wife," Slowey said. "We thought about it and prayed about it and decided that the moment we were in and sort of our family time line it was best for me to be home."

Slowey said other teams reached out to him last season. He was thankful but declined. His daughter, Isla, was born Nov. 2. He stayed active by pitching at facilities in Pittsburgh and signed with the Phillies in December, nearly six months after he was released by Miami. He's competing in camp for a spot as either a starter or a reliever.

"You think it's going to floor you but you have no idea how significant it is," Slowey said about parenthood. ". . . Your perspective shifts so much. There's nothing in my life that's been more amazing than that."

"When you get home and see your wife and your child, whatever you did that day - good, bad, or otherwise - just disappears, melts away. It doesn't matter," Slowey said. "You'd have to sit down and really concentrate to remember what happened, wherever you were. Because when you see them, that's all that matters."

Phillies were Mastroianni's favorite destination

Darin Mastroianni's first experience as a free agent ended in the kitchen of the Minnesota home he recently purchased with his wife, Bridget.

"We were sitting there and I got a call from my agent," Mastroianni said. "I was like, 'There's no reason he should be calling me right now. I'm not on a roster.' So it couldn't be bad news."

The Phillies had called Mastroianni's agent last September to inquire about the outfielder, who had declared for free agency just a day earlier. Mastroianni was excited to hear it was the Phillies.

He had been teammates with several current Phillies, including centerfielder Ben Revere when both were with the Twins. Mastroianni signed a week later. He is in camp competing as one of the team's extra righthanded hitters.

"It was so quick," Mastroianni said. "I didn't want to wait any longer. That stress was gone. If there were five teams that called, it would have been hard to find a team that I would have picked over the Phillies. That's why we were willing to sign so quick, because this is a place that I really wanted to be."