Four Pitchers, Four Dreams

Tuesday night was an interesting night in the Phillies minor league system. At every level, there was a pitcher making a start that was well worth watching. Scranton featured a young prospect battling back from an injury. At Reading and Clearwater, the top prospects in the organization threw on the same night. And, at Lakewood, it was a lesser prospect battling for respect among the organization's pitching prospects.

Eric Junge Making his second appearance since returning to Scranton after shoulder surgery, Eric Junge had a rough night. Lasting just three innings and giving up four earned runs on five hits, Junge also struggled with his control, walking three. In all fairness, the Phillies aren't looking for Junge to set the world on fire at this point. This is basically his spring training and he needs to simply get some work done on his repaired right shoulder to rebuild the strength that he needs to be successful. It was also his first start at AAA this season, since his first appearance was in a relief role.

The Phillies have every reason to believe that Junge, who came over from the Dodgers in the Omar Daal trade, will make it all the way back. The 27 year old right-hander came into the season with a minor league ERA of 3.74 and a major league ERA of 2.37 in 19 innings of work. It's likely that 2004 will be somewhat of a lost season for Junge as his primary focus will be simply on putting some innings on his arm and getting back to where he was before the injury. There will be some interesting things to watch with Junge during the season to see how he does come around.

Gavin Floyd After eight innings of no-hit ball in his last start against New Hampshire, you had to wonder what Floyd would do for an encore. Unfortunately, the encore wasn't up to the usual Floyd standards. Our hero was hit for nine hits and issued four walks in five innings of work. Of course, he also found time to strike out another seven hitters along the way.

When a pitcher as good as Gavin Floyd has an outing this rough, the reaction is one of two things. The first scenario is that he is such a good pitcher, you know he'll rebound in his next start and this one will become a forgotten moment in time. The other scenario is that you instantly worry about an injury. Don't worry. All is well with Floyd and this was a bump in the road. Just an outing to prove that he is in fact, human.

Floyd started the season posting a 0.00 ERA in April on his way to being named the Phillies' Minor League Pitcher of the Month. In his first 17 innings, only one opposing player advanced past second base. The injury theorists among fans will point to his 3.72 ERA in May, which balloons to 5.14 if you forget his outing against New Hampshire. The fact is that you can't forget that outing and there are a lot of pitchers who would love to have a 3.72 ERA. Some fans have even speculated that he injured himself during his last outing and that's why manager Greg Legg didn't let him pitch the ninth inning to try for the complete game no-hitter. Wrong. Legg didn't send him out there because he had thrown 107 pitches and the Phillies don't want any of their pitchers going too far over the magical 100 pitch limit.

Cole Hamels After putting at least one foot inside the Phillies doghouse this spring by not telling the team that he had a sore shoulder, Hamels is showing that he really is okay and is ready to go. Hamels made his second start of the season Tuesday night and was awesome. Hamels threw four innings against St.Lucie and allowed four hits and just one earned run. His control was right on as well, walking one and striking out seven hitters along the way.

Cole Hamels has struck out 13 in 7 innings of work for Clearwater. Any concerns about a sore shoulder are well behind the 2002 first round pick. (Photo courtesy, Clearwater Threshers)
The Phillies are being cautious with Hamels and are keeping him on a pretty strict pitch count for now, but all signs are that he just developed a little inflammation in his shoulder and there are no lingering effects. Some have said that the Phillies have been overly cautious, but they're not going to take any chances with Hamels, who is generally regarded as their top prospect. Overall, Hamels has now pitched seven innings and has allowed just the four hits and one run that he gave up Tuesday night. He has struck out 13 hitters.

To show just how dominating Hamels has been this season, let's look at some numbers. Vero Beach's Jonathan Broxton leads the Florida State League with 68 strikeouts in 51 2/3 innings. That's 1.3 strikeouts per inning. At Hamels current rate of 1.9 strikeouts per inning, he would have struck out 97 hitters when he reaches the 51 innings mark of the season. That's domination.

Scott Mathieson Fans don't run to the boxscores to look up what Mathieson did like they do with Floyd or Hamels. Generally, only the most seasoned of Phillies fans really know who Scott Mathieson is. You don't find him among the names on most of the top prospect lists, but he's working hard to change that.

Drafted out of Aldergrove High School in British Columbia, Mathieson was probably a little bit lucky to get drafted. The fact that the Phillies took him in the 17th round of the 2002 Draft shows that he has shown at least some talent. Keep in mind that the Phillies have a decent track record of drafting quality pitchers in the mid-rounds of the draft. In his first two professional seasons, Mathieson didn't do too much to prove anything to the Phillies. It wasn't an easy adjustment and Mathieson was hit pretty hard, posting a 2-9, 5.59 mark in two seasons in the Gulf Coast League. Before the end of last season, the Phillies decided to challenge Mathieson a little and moved him to Batavia. He made just two relief appearances with the Muck Dogs, but recorded a save and threw six perfect innings. He also struck out seven. Suddenly, something had clicked for the 20 year old right-hander.

This season, Mathieson has again been challenged a little with a promotion to Lakewood and a return to the starting rotation. Mathieson is 3-3, 4.88 in nine starts and has walked a few too many - 16 in 48 innings - but nothing to worry about. He also is tied for the team lead for homeruns allowed, giving up five long balls.

The truth of the matter is that Mathieson is not Gavin Floyd and he's not Cole Hamels. He is one of many young pitchers in the Phillies organization - and others for that matter - who are doing all they can to prove that they have what it takes to pitch in the majors. The road to the majors won't be quick for Mathieson, but at least he is on a road to the majors.

Four different pitchers, all with their own concerns and situations. All pitched on the same night for Phillies farm clubs and all had different concerns and results. In many ways, they're all very different, but yet have many similarities. If nothing else, they're all young pitchers doing all they can to battle their way to what they hope will be a successful and lucrative major league career. For some, like Mathieson, the first goal is simply to keep advancing to keep his major league dream alive. For Floyd and Hamels, it's more a matter of when and not if they'll be in the majors. Of course, if they look at Eric Junge, they can easily see how quickly fate can throw an unavoidable pothole onto even the smoothest roads to the majors.

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