A practice incident transforms a Phillies prospect

A practice incident transforms a Phillies prospect

Hoby Milner snatched a ground ball two years ago during pitchers’ fielding practice – one of the most monotonous drills for a pitcher – and whipped it to first base. It was just another routine exercise in an afternoon of instruction. But it was the way Milner threw to the bag — with a sidearm motion — that drew the attention of Rafael Chavez, the Phillies’ minor-league pitching coordinator.

Chavez told Milner that perhaps he should begin to pitch with a sidearm delivery. Chavez received approval from then-general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. and had Milner work with roving pitching coach Carlos Arroyo, who threw sidearm during his career, and then double-A pitching coach Dave Lundquist.

“OK, whatever,” Milner thought.

And now, just 18 months after throwing his first sidearm pitch, Milner is a major-leaguer. That small observation from Chavez proved prudent. Milner’s fastball is lucky to break 90 mph, but he gets results because he throws it with deception thanks to his funky delivery.

Milner also throws a slider and change-up. He joined the Phillies on Tuesday but did not see action in his first three games. Milner first started throwing with a submarine delivery, before working his way up to a sidearm motion after working with pitching coach Hector Berrios. Milner began the season in triple A, where he allowed just eight earned runs in 27 2/3 innings. He was a new pitcher, starting the season with 15 scoreless appearances.

“It’s been great,” Milner said. “Last year was my first full season doing it. I started in extended spring training last year, kind of tweaking this and that. It worked out. This year I kind of built off last year. I took the successes I had and carried that over to this year and I took the failures I had last year and tried to correct those this year, and it’s come together better.”

Milner, 26, could provide some aid to a Phillies bullpen that is in disarray. The unit entered Friday with a 6.42 ERA in June, more than two runs higher than its mark in May. Edubray Ramos might soon get demoted to triple A. Jeanmar Gomez was designated for assignment. Pat Neshek is primed to be traded. Hector Neris is opting to throw fat fastballs instead of his once-devastating splitter, and Joaquin Benoit is suffering from a loss in velocity.

Milner is certainly not a savior, but his funk will provide a different look. He also could be the first of a wave of young pitchers to reach the bullpen. Jesen Therrien, a hardthrowing righthander with a wipeout slider, moved earlier this month to triple A after dominating at double A. He could be the next man up. Austin Davis, a lefthanded reliever at double A, is not far behind. The Phillies bullpen is struggling, but there is some promise.

Milner was in a hotel room earlier this week in Pawtucket, R.I., when he heard a knock on his door. The pitcher and his roommate, outfielder Cameron Perkins, took a break from playing video games to answer. It was triple-A manager Dusty Wathan.

“The manager came in and said, ‘Hey, Milner, you’re going to the show. And you can take your roommate with you.’ It was pretty sweet,” Milner said.

He was headed to the majors after spending six years climbing the rungs of the minor leagues. Pretty sweet, indeed. And it’s worth wondering whether that knock would have come if it had not been for that observation during yet another of those tedious drills.

“Probably not,” the major-leaguer said with a smile.

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Published at Fri, 23 Jun 2017 16:02:54 +0000

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