FT. MYERS, Fla. - The bullpen door swung open, allowing Kevin Slowey to jog to the mound from right field and start the bottom of the eighth inning of a 7-6 loss to the Boston Red Sox on Sunday. The relief pitcher stopped his trot at the infield dirt. Slowey walked the rest of the way.
It was his fifth appearance of spring, four of which have been scoreless. His role with the Phillies remains undefined. Manager Ryne Sandberg said Slowey is versatile. He has been both a starter and a reliever in his seven major-league seasons.
Slowey pitched one inning on Sunday. The righthander struck out two batters, hit another, and forced a groundout to end the eighth. He tested his breaking pitches for the first time this spring. Sandberg thought he looked sharp. Slowey's outing was shortened because there was no bottom of the ninth. It is yet to be seen how many innings he will pitch in one outing this spring.
The 30-year-old's best fit with the Phillies seems to be as a long reliever. But there is still a chance for him to be a starting pitcher, especially in the event of an injury. Slowey said there's still plenty of time to prepare his arm for a longer duration if needed.
He recalled advice from his former pitching coach Chuck Hernandez and manager Mike Redmond, whom Slowey spent two seasons under with Miami. Both coaches were wonderful, he said.
"They were always really big on saying, 'Hey, you need to be prepared for anything even before we tell you,' " he said. "So I tried to make that something I press into in spring and be ready for everything and try to throw whatever it is they need me to do that day."
The Phillies likely have three bullpen spots available after Jonathan Papelbon, Ken Giles, Jake Diekman, and Justin De Fratus. Righthander Luis Garcia, who has not allowed a run in seven innings, is a likely candidate. Andy Oliver, who was obtained in December's Rule 5 draft, also appears to be a favorite. The lefthander has impressed this spring. He must be offered back to Pittsburgh if the Phillies elect not to keep him on the 25-man roster this season.
Slowey missed the second half of last season after he was released by the Marlins in June. He allowed 23 runs in 371/3 innings. Other teams called him, but Slowey declined. His wife, Leigh, was five months pregnant with the couple's first child, a daughter named Isla.
Slowey returned home to Pittsburgh. Being with his family was his first priority, said Slowey, who first met his wife in high school.
"Her locker was a couple down from mine. I had a huge crush on her," Slowey said. "Our paths went different ways. We went to different colleges and then found our way back together."
He said fatherhood gave him a new perspective. Being away from the game offered a different outlook. Roughly nine months after being jettisoned from baseball, Slowey is nearing an opening-day roster spot. Whatever the role, Slowey is determined to be ready when the bullpen door opens.
"I would be thrilled to be on the opening-day roster. I know how precious those moments are to be on an opening-day roster," Slowey said. "I've been fortunate to be on a few in my career and there's really nothing like that."