Hasn't had his Phil yet

Phil Seibel is just 27 years old, but he heard his share of old man jokes during the first two months of the 2006 season. He opened the campaign with Single-A Greenville, where he was followed in the rotation by 19-year-old Michael Bowden.

Seibel was promoted to Double-A Portland Apr. 28, where he shares the locker room with a handful of other 27-year-olds. But Seibel is the only one of the veterans with major league experience: He appeared in two games for the Red Sox in 2004 and earned a World Series ring, which remains safely locked away at his house.

But there was no joking at Seibel's expense when he ended up in the hotel room originally reserved for Sea Dogs pitching coach Ace Adams during a weekend series in Norwich, CT the first weekend of June. Adams lives near the Massachusetts-Connecticut border, less than an hour from Norwich, so he stayed at his house and gave his room to Seibel.

"Gave me this room because I am the old guy," Seibel said with a laugh.

The old guy can still get it done, though. Seibel, who was assigned to the lower levels of the Sox chain because he missed all of last season following Tommy John surgery on his left elbow in November 2004, posted a microscopic 1.47 ERA in his first 11 starts between Greenville (four starts) and Portland. In 55 innings—he pitched five innings in each start—he allowed just 32 hits and 11 walks while striking out 50.

He allowed one hit in three starts and two hits two other times. Over a two-start span May 25 and 30, Seibel allowed no runs on three hits and three walks while striking out nine over 10 innings.

Seibel's performance went largely unheralded because of the relative brevity of his starts—he was just 3-3 in those 11 starts, including 1-3 in seven starts at Portland—and the fact he is considerably older than most of his competition.

"It's kind of strange for me, because I'm getting older and these guys seem really young—three, four, five years younger than me, some are even more younger than that," Seibel said, referring both to his teammates and Eastern League counterparts.

Still, allowing two hits or less in almost half his starts is impressive at any level. And merely pitching without pain is a victory for Seibel, whose left elbow throbbed throughout the 2004 season. He made just 13 appearances after his brief April stint with the Sox—he allowed no hits and walked five in 3 2/3 innings—and missed most of the final three months.

The Sox originally thought Seibel had torn some muscle fibers in his left forearm and then believed numbness in his fingers might mean he was suffering from a nerve problem. But an MRI revealed a tear in the ligament, and Dr. Lewis Yocum told Seibel "…it was tore up pretty good."

The timing of the surgery assured Seibel wouldn't be tempted to try and pitch during 2005, and he threw in the Instructional League two weeks ahead of schedule last October. Seibel, never a hard thrower to begin with, said his fastball is regularly clocked now at 87 or 88 mph, a tick or two higher than his pre-surgery radar gun readings. But he feels stronger and less likely to have to "rear back" to deliver something extra on the ball.

"Because I'm stronger now, it's easier for me to pitch at the level that I'm at," Seibel said. "I'm not feeling like I have to reach back as much to get some velocity if I need a little extra. I don't feel like it's as much of a struggle to grab that velocity."

The surgery also strengthened Seibel's mental approach.

"When you spend a year off and not playing very much, you get a lot of time to work on things—not only mechanically but mentally [to] work on your perception of the game and what you think," Seibel said. "I've had a lot of time to look back on things. And what I've done so far—and what I would like to [continue to] do—[is] just trying to stay more relaxed and enjoy the process more. Not be so wrapped up in ‘I have to do this, I have to do that.' Let's just go out and pitch and enjoy this and enjoy getting the work done. I enjoy getting ready to make each start."

The veteran of four organizations—he was selected by the Expos in the eighth round of the 2000 draft and traded to the Mets in 2002 before the Sox claimed him off waivers following the 2003 season, only to be traded to the Angels this off-season for Brendan Donnelly.

Seibel prepares for his starts knowing that if he's to make it back to the big leagues, it'll likely be as a reliever. In addition, Seibel realizes left-handers are particularly valuable coming out of the bullpen.

"I'm left-handed, and if I pitch, pitch well and get left-handed batters out, they'll figure something out," Seibel said. "Something will happen…The bullpen is more likely. I probably won't throw more than three or four innings as a long man. Obviously, I just need to show that I'm healthy and I can make quality pitches and get hitters out so I get back on their radar screens."

Jerry Beach is the managing editor of Diehard Magazine, covering the Boston Red Sox.

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