The 2011 Phillies Nation Player Reviews continue today, with Michael Stutes…
The Phillies entered Spring Training with righthanded relievers aged 23, 24 and 25. The 23-year-old and 25-year-old combined to give up seven runs on eleven hits in seven innings. The 24-year-old let slide a lone run on three hits in nine innings. And on the 24th of April, that 24-year-old got the call to The Show.
Michael Stutes came up on the fourth Sunday in April to replace a DL’ed Jose Contreras. Contreras had pitched eight scoreless innings in the young season, striking out nine while allowing only eight men to reach base. But the elbow problems began, and Stutes became the silver lining to limited contributions from a recently extended 39-year-old reliever.
Stutes was thrust into high-pressure situations from the get-go and used a 60/40 split on a 93 mile per hour fastball and biting, low-80s slider to get off to a rock solid major league start. He was scored upon in only one of his first 13 appearances and six of his first 31. And this success came at much-needed times…14 of Stutes’ 27 appearances during May and June came with the score tied or within a run, and he allowed a run only three times. With key relievers like Contreras and Brad Lidge out, Stutes nestled himself into a nice little role in the Phillies’ bullpen, becoming the comfortable third wheel to Ryan Madson and Antonio Bastardo.
Stutes hit a bit of a wall in late-July, all through August, but that was expected from a youngster pitching so many stressful innings. An encouraging September led us to believe that perhaps the wall just briefly stunned Stutes, but a disastrous outing in the ninth of a Game 1 NLDS laugher reminded us that unheralded rookie relievers don’t just speed past growing pains.
The Phils will need Stutes to build upon the good from 2011, which could be difficult with each NL team now having not just a book but a look at him. He figures to be an integral part of the Phils’ pen in 2012. Madson and Lidge are both free agents and, as dominant as Bastardo was for much of the season, the lefty took a bizarrely stiff regression in the final weeks. It is nice to have a young, talented, inexpensive late-inning relief option. The Phillies have done an underratedly good job of developing relievers in recent years, but as long as youngsters keep seizing opportunities, it doesn’t matter who notices.
GRADE: 8.0/10 because, while the late struggles were expected, the constant early successes weren’t. And for much of the season, Stutes contributed to a bullpen that held just about every lead it was given.