Saver-ing the moment
September is always a great time of year, not just to see top prospects (congrats to Jarrod Parker, by the way, for getting the call) but also to see stories of guys who have persevered to get there. Not everyone can make a bee-line to the big leagues and it’s hard not to like stories of Minor League vets who stuck with it (I’m talking to you Val Pascucci) and guys who were willing to do and try anything to get there (I’m speaking from an on-the-field, strictly legal standpoint).
This brings me to the subject of this post: The Phillies’ Joe Savery. Once upon a time, Savery was a two-way star out of Rice University. A good college hitter, most saw him as a left-handed pitcher as a pro and that’s exactly what the Phillies drafted him as in the first round of the 2007 Draft. I first interacted with him when he was a Draft prospect and I did a story on he and Sean Doolittle as the top two-way players in the class. Here’s the Draft Report I did on him (notice how I only had a breakdown on him as a pitcher).
Savery had been working his way back from shoulder surgery that season and the Phillies felt he was advanced enough to
go to the Arizona Fall League that autumn. I was impressed with Savery and asked him to write a journal for us during his time in Arizona. Here’s his last entry. I highly recommend you go back and read them. The guy’s pretty smart. Check out the picture on the right. That comes courtesy of Lisa Winston (Read her stuff at Queen of Diamonds) from a dinner at Don and Charlie’s with the 2007 AFL journal writers.
He threw well in the Fall League and seemed like the type of college lefty, now healthy, who’d move fast. It didn’t exactly work out that way. While he did move up the ladder — he was in Triple-A by 2009 — his stuff never came all the way back following that shoulder surgery. Savery was a smart pitcher and did things like add a cutter, but after a 2010 season that saw him go 1-12 with a 4.66 ERA and spend time both starting and relieving, he realized he wasn’t going to cut it. At least that’s what he told me in this story during instructs in 2010.
Savery got some opportunities to DH in 2010 and it got him thinking. So he went to instructs to work on his hitting. He was, after all, a pretty good hitter back in the day. In 2011, he went down to the Florida State League to hit every day. Back at first base, DHing some and even playing some left field, Savery broke out of the gate like he had never stopped hitting, with a .450 average after April. That dropped to .235 in May and .175 in 10 June games. He went up to Double-A Reading in mid-June and got 35 more at-bats there (he hit .200).
As is often the case with my job, I can’t always track what every player is doing every day. I knew, obviously, that Savery was giving hitting a try and that he was on fire in the season’s first month. Then I sort of lost track. Evidently, shortly after he moved up to Double-A, he was throwing out of the pen, making his first appearance for Reading on Jun 27. After allowing just one run and striking out 14 in nine innings (lefties hit just .125 against him), he was back up in Triple-A pitching out of Lehigh Valley’s bullpen.
Yes, he got to swing the bat a few times, going 2-for-5. But he was now pitching too well as a lefty reliever to worry about hitting. Savery posted a 1.80 ERA with four relief wins and two saves in 18 appearances. He struck out 26 over 25 innings, not too bad for a guy who was a complete finesse guy last time he pitched in Triple-A. He held left-handed hitters to a .192 batting average against and then had three scoreless playoff appearances.
To cap all of this off, there he was on Tuesday afternoon, pitching against the Washington Nationals in Philadelphia. He faced two batters, allowing a single to Chris Marrero and a sacrifice bunt to Brian Bixler. Sure, you could argue that he faced duos like that all the time in Triple-A, but not in front of 44,000 people for a team headed to the MLB playoffs.
Hopefully, I’ll get the chance to catch up with Savery soon and find out what happened. Did he have some kind of Jim “The Rookie’ Morris return of velocity to his arm in his time away? Did he realize that he wouldn’t make it as a hitter and decided to give relieving another shot and it paid off?
Whatever the reason, it’s got to be one of my favorite September callup stories of the year.