CLEARWATER, Fla. - Seemingly each time they discuss Elvis Araujo, Phillies manager Ryne Sandberg and pitching coach Bob McClure refer to the angle at which the ball travels from the pitcher's left hand to home plate.
Araujo, in other words, stands an imposing 6-foot-6, 280 pounds. His fastball, which he complements with a slider and change-up, peaked this week at 97 miles per hour on the Bright House Field radar gun. In five Grapefruit League innings, he has allowed only two hits.
"If you plan on being competitive and getting in fights," McClure quipped, "you want to take as many big guys as you can."
Perhaps the biggest surprise of Phillies camp, Araujo is using his first spring training with the organization to make a great first impression on the front office and coaching staff. A glut of relief options makes the towering southpaw a long shot to win a bullpen spot, but this spring could set the 23-year-old Venezuelan on a path to reach the big leagues this season.
"He's opened up some eyes," general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. said.
Araujo gave up his first run on Tuesday, when Tampa Bay's Logan Forsythe deposited a 94-m.p.h. fastball well over the right-field fence. He has five strikeouts to two walks and also struck out the side in an exhibition game against the University of Tampa.
Plagued by control issues in the past, Araujo has yet to pitch above double A. The Phillies saw enough potential to sign him in November to a major-league deal. He's been in professional baseball since July 2007, when the Indians signed him out of high school in Venezuela as a 16-year-old. He started last season in high A.
"I feel like I come in here and try to make a team," he said. "When I go to the mound, I'm just thinking, 'throw strikes.' That's it, and help the team win."
Araujo has each of his three minor-league options remaining. He said he signed with the Phillies because he sees the opportunity to contribute in the major leagues.
"You can't rule anybody out this year," McClure said of the competition for bullpen spots. "I mean, look at [Mario] Hollands last year. He was out of double A. But it was strike, strike, strike, strike. He's lefthanded [and] ended up going" on the opening day roster.
"There's spots open," McClure said, "and there's guys competing for those spots, and I don't want to deter anyone from doing it, because they're open."
Even with an impressive spring, Araujo will likely start the season in triple A. Andy Oliver, who has thrown five scoreless innings, would probably get the nod over Araujo because of Oliver's Rule 5 status. If Oliver is not on the 25-man roster, the Phillies must offer him back to the Pirates. Hollands is another major-league-tested candidate, though he, too, has minor-league options.
There are probably three bullpen spots open behind closer Jonathan Papelbon, setup men Jake Diekman and Ken Giles, and reliable righthander Justin De Fratus. Righthander Luis Garcia is a good candidate for a spot, and the Phillies also need to account for a long reliever.
It all decreases Araujo's chances to make the opening-day roster. But he can look to just last year, when Ken Giles rose from double A to appear in 44 major-league games, for an indication of how spring training impressions can come into play down the road.