Last April, Michael Stutes knew there was something wrong. He was able to throw, but just didn't have the velocity or command that he was used to having when he was on the mound. The pain had actually started during spring training, but he made the opening day roster and made six appearances before winding up on the DL on April 22. It would be a little over two months later when Stutes would finally have shoulder surgery to remove fraying in his shoulder, much the same surgery that Roy Halladay just underwent this past week. It turned out that Stutes missed the rest of the season and found himself fighting for a roster spot this past Spring.
"I was frustrated a lot because I felt like the only reason I lost my job was because of injury," explained Stutes. "From the organization's standpoint, I understand that they wanted me to just get more innings in because of last year and I hadn't been in a lot of big game situations and if they don't feel comfortable with putting me in those spots in the majors, then that's their decision."
Stutes battled in camp, but was one of the final cuts, losing out to Phillippe Aumont, who claimed the final relief job with the Phillies. That decision sent Stutes back to Triple-A Lehigh Valley with the stated goal of strengthening his arm.
I'm a competitor and obviously, I went to camp wanting to make the team, but I understand their decision," said Stutes, even though he didn't completely agree with the assessment. "I've felt healthy since the beginning of spring training. I'm throwing the ball right now very similar to how I was in the beginning of the year, but I had a lot of bad luck; balls were bouncing bad, going one step away from a guy. It was just bad luck."
As Stutes battled through the rehab and hoped to return to the Phillies before the end of the 2012 season, he admits he was frustrated by the injury. In the grand scheme of things, having Stutes in the bullpen wouldn't have made much of a difference to the struggling Phillies and he realizes that . What had him most frustrated wasn't the fact that he wasn't able to return by the end of the season, but just the fact that he got hurt at all.
"The most frustrating part was that it wasn't something that I had any control over. It's not like I wasn't doing my work or something. As a matter of fact, I was extremely strong, which is why I could still throw the ball even with the injury. It was just one of those things that you have to deal with," said Stutes.
Once he got to spring training, Stutes was ready to go and had put any worries of reinjuring his shoulder out of his mind. "That was never an issue. I've always gone with the philosophy that if you're going to get hurt, you're going to get hurt. I could go out there and throw my first warm-up pitch and have something go wrong," explained the 26-year old Stutes.
With Lehigh Valley this season, Stutes worked through a lot of inconsistency in the early going and saw his ERA balloon to 7.04 on April 18 after he allowed four earned runs in an inning of work against Pawtucket. Ironically, the IronPigs offense mounted a rally and made Stutes the winning pitcher in that game. Since Late April, Stutes has put his issues with inconsistency behind him and is running off some impressive numbers. In his last 13 1/3 innings, Stutes has allowed just eight hits and has walked just two while striking out 11 hitters. His ERA during the stretch stands at 0.68 and his season ERA has dipped to 3.60 thanks to his turn-around.
Stutes had an impressive debut season with the Phillies in 2011, going 6-2 with a 3.63 ERA in 57 games with the Phillies. He seemed destined to become a stalwart in their bullpen until the injury derailed him. Whether or not he's throwing as well now as he was back in 2011 isn't something that Stutes concerns himself with. Instead, Stutes concerns himself only with how consistent he is on the mound and how many guys he's getting out.
"They're not squaring the ball up real well on me, so I guess I'm throwing pretty well," laughed Stutes. "I Just go out there and try to get outs and see what happens."
The question now is when does Mike Stutes return to the Phillies? They wanted him to gain arm strength, pitch in some key spots and prove he was healthy. All three goals have been accomplished and it would also appear that Stutes has regained any consistency that he had been lacking. Recalling B.J. Rosenberg over Stutes makes some sense, since Rosenberg was stretched out and able to pitch longer innings, which is what the Phillies were looking to add to their bullpen. Rosenberg was working as a starter for Lehigh Valley, but Stutes has pitched more than one inning on nine separate occasions this season.
Justin De Fratus had better season numbers (3-0, 1.89) when the Phillies recalled him ahead of Stutes, but hadn't been pitching as well as Stutes has since the end of April. Over the same stretch of time where Stutes has been nearly unhittable, De Fratus had posted a 3.86 ERA and allowed seven hits and two walks in seven innings of work, while striking out seven hitters.
"I don't worry about when I'll go back. I can't control that, so it doesn't do any good to worry about it," said Stutes. "All I can do is keep doing my job here, because that's what's going to get me back to the majors."