When Nate Bump signed a minor league deal with the Phillies, it didn't cause too much of a stir. It was basically just a little blip on the transactions page that only a few die-hard fans really noticed and even fewer knew who Bump was. Who he is, is a 33 year-old right-hander with parts of three major league seasons - all with the Florida Marlins - under his belt.
His sample size with the Lehigh Valley IronPigs, but Bump has been a nice find for the Triple-A club and it's going to be interesting to see if he eventually can fit into plans for the big league club. In his two starts for Lehigh Valley, Bump is 1-0 with a 2.08 ERA and has thrown 13 innings. He's allowed 14 hits and has struck out just three hitters, but that's actually been part of Bump's success. He's never been known as a strikeout pitcher, preferring instead to do what scouts call "pitch to contact." In other words, he's willing to let hitters put the bat on the ball, as long as they're going to hit the ball where he wants them to hit the ball. And with the success of his sinker, Bump can usually get hitters to put the ball on the ground, exactly where he wants them to put it.
"I always try to get a guy out within three or four pitches," admitted Bump. "I'm not going to strike out many hitters, so there's no sense wasting a lot of pitches to get them out."
In his latest outing against Rochester, Bump had his sinker working and Rochester hitters couldn't lay off. The result was 11 groundball outs, including two double-play balls, and nine fly balls that were generally weakly hit. In his first outing, Bump collected two groundball outs for every flyball out that he recorded. And perhaps more importantly to his manager, Bump was able to throw seven innings in Lehigh Valley's win over Rochester. "He got them to swing early in the count, got a lot of early count outs," said Dave Huppert, manager of Lehigh Valley. "That's what you expect out of a sinker ball pitcher." The seven inning outing allowed Huppert to keep his bullpen down for much of the night.
Perhaps Bump owes some of his success to his fielders, who provided him with a good amount of solid plays. "I rely on those guys to make the plays," said Bump "And we've got some pretty good gloves on this club, so it should help me a lot."
The scary part is that while the sinker is his best pitch, Bump says he's still not quite throwing the pitch the way he wants to and knows that he can. His sinker was admittedly better in his second start than it was in his season debut against Syracuse and Bump believes that he's getting there with the pitch. "I need to see downward movement on the sinker and it wasn't there in Syracuse. Tonight I got a higher percentage [of pitches] with that downward movement," said Bump. And even though he's been throwing the sinker for years, Bump can't just pick up a ball and start throwing sinkers from day one in camp. It takes him time to redevelop the pitch and Bump knows that he's not there, yet. "You'd think I'd be used to it," joked Bump. "But it takes three to five starts until I really feel used to it."
Bump has never been able to accomplish very much in the majors, but if he were to show that he might be a better option at the major league level than some of what they've got there now, perhaps Bump will get another shot at pitching in the majors. He's primarily been a starter in the minors, but has pitched in relief in the majors, being unable to crack a major league rotation long-term. The Phillies have searched for sinker-ball pitchers who might be able to give them an edge pitching at Citizens Bank Park and Bump's sinker might be an attractive pitch for him.
For now, Bump is doing his best for the IronPigs and focusing on his role there and will let the future play itself out. "Of course, I'd love to be back in the majors, but I just have to pitch well, no matter where I'm at. If I don't succeed here, then I won't even get a chance to show that I can pitch at the major league level and I wouldn't really deserve to have that chance."
Nate Bump's career Major League stats