PHOENIX — Cliff Lee saw the newest member of the Phillies rotation in a leather recliner Thursday and went to shake his hand. "Welcome back," Lee told Tyler Cloyd. Cloyd nodded his head.
The Phillies will use their seventh different starter in their 37th game come Friday. Cloyd is the arm to replace Roy Halladay in the rotation, which makes him the fourth homegrown pitcher in the rotation. He made six starts in the majors with a 4.91 ERA at the end of last season after winning honors as the International League's pitcher of the year.
Cloyd was bypassed earlier this season when Jonathan Pettibone was picked to replace John Lannan. The 25-year-old pitcher said it did not bother him because he was scuffling at triple A. He will pitch Friday a week removed from his finest outing.
"Everything kind of clicked, finally," Cloyd said.
He struck out 10 Indianapolis Indians in eight innings of one-run ball on May 3. The difference, he said, was the use of an effective cutter. That was a pitch he threw nearly a third of the time in the majors last season.
Because Cloyd will not overpower anyone (his fastball will rarely crack 90 m.p.h.) he must have a full arsenal of pitches with pristine command. The cutter is key; it was missing during his first five starts of 2013 which amounted to a 6.67 ERA.
"That's kind of a problem," Cloyd said. "I had to work with my best pitches as my change-up and breaking ball. It was the first time since throwing my cutter I didn't have it in multiple games. It was a struggle to figure it out. I finally got back to the point where I could control it. It was nice."
The Phillies do not need a fifth starter after Friday until May 21, so they could skip Cloyd if he is ineffective. The margin is thin in another opportunity for the unheralded pitcher. The Phillies are seeking help in the form of a veteran pitcher through a minor acquisition.
Cloyd could silence that quest.
"He's another guy that his location has to be real good and he has to keep the ball down," Charlie Manuel said. "He changes speed good, and that's what his success is. They're gonna put the ball in play on him and hopefully he'll take the sting out of the bat and our defense will play good behind him."