His quiet, unassuming demeanor fits well in the Phillies clubhouse. His shaggy hair does the exact opposite; it helps him to stand out from the older crowd.
Mike Stutes also stands out among the rest because of his hard fastball/slider combination, a combo that jettisoned him to the major leagues in short order.
In 2010, a lightbulb seemed to go on for Stutes. One year prior, Stutes inconsistencies as a starter would lead him to a relief role, where he would flourish. But he says, it wasn’t easy making that change.
“It was definitely a learning experience,” said Stutes, when I asked him about the contrast between starting and relieving. “A lot of differences. It’s the same game, but it’s a different game.”
It might seem as though we’ve been hearing Stutes name as a possibility for the Phillies bullpen for quite sometime, but it’s really only been a short period.
In the new-found bullpen role, Stutes would blossom quickly, posting a 7-1 record and a 3.42 ERA in 53 appearances between Double-A Reading and Triple-A Lehigh Valley last year.
The hardest part is parlaying those numbers to the major leagues, something he has been able to do seamlessly. Called up from Lehigh Valley when Jose Contreras went to the disabled list on April 25, Stutes has been a pleasant surprise for the Phillies, putting together an impressive 2.87 ERA (which ballooned by a full run on Tuesday night) and 1.21 WHIP over 18 appearances. Prior to his promotion, he’d been nearly unhittable with the Iron Pigs, allowing no earned runs in 10 innings.
List Charlie Manuel as someone who’s enjoying this breakthrough. So much so, he’ll keep giving him opportunities. “He’s gonna be used, probably sixth, seventh inning,” said Manuel. “I know we give him the ball, and he’s throwing good, and that’s who we got, so that right there is how he earned that right.”
His excellent start has been met with a dash of criticism. Not the kind that says Stutes can’t do it, or continue doing it, but the kind that says he can be even better.
Phillies color analyst Chris Wheeler told me that time will tell with Stutes. “You see kids, they come up and they just look like they’re out there all wide eyed, deer in the headlights look,” said Wheels. “He doesn’t have that.”
So I think he’s got potential to be in a major league uniform and a major league bullpen, but what it is – they don’t have a book on him yet. Breaking ball has to get a lot better, probably. You can’t just keep throwing fastballs up there. The breaking ball is a work in progress. Might take 20, 25 games, and then we’ll find out what he’s got.”
On Tuesday night, the learning curve continued it’s bend as Stutes gave up a two run home run to Matt Kemp, only the fourth and fifth runs he allowed this season.
Wheels makes some excellent points there. Stutes is widely unknown throughout the league, so once clubs gain some knowledge on him, they’ll try to use that against him.
Wheeler also mentions his breaking ball – the slider – which does need work. Stutes himself agrees. “It’s really been my go-to pitch and it’s been a little inconsistent, which is troubling, a little bit. It’s really my go to pitch. But it’ll be there when I need it.
His fastball has been potent, averaging a healthy 93 M.P.H., according to Fangraphs.
One thing Stutes has benefited from is the veteran presence in the locker room. The Lidge’s and Madson’s of the world can always be used as human textbooks, available to draw information from on the workings of being a major leaguer.
“It’s a daily process. I’m always watching what they’re doing in the weight room, what they’re eating, how they warm up before the game. These guys are some big-named guys, these guys are really successful, so it’s been a good learning experience for me.”
Giving up that two-run homer to Kemp will also serve as a lesson learned. For Stutes, it will accentuate the idea that the slider is still a long way from refined. Kemp launched a hanger to the opposite field seats for his 17th home run of the season.
Even with a slight lapse on Tuesday night, Stutes will still get ample opportunities to continue to prove his worth. His consistent season is a big reason why the Phillies haven’t felt the effects of missing Brad Lidge, Jose Contreras, and JC Romero at times this season.
So while Stutes may be reserved and soft spoken in the clubhouse, the results on the field have been anything but.