It's all about the slider for pitcher Vance Worley. The 22 year-old right-hander made his Triple-A debut Tuesday night with the Lehigh Valley IronPigs and put together an impressive debut. Worley came out and immediately started to make Durham hitters look a little rough with his slider. Worley was setting up the pitch well, with low-to-mid 90s fastballs on the inner half of the plate and would then run his slider down and away to right-handed hitters, picking up three of his first four strikeouts in the game on the pitch. Worley's slider was coming in eight to ten miles per hour slower than his fastball and had strong movement. With four strikeouts through the first two innings, Durham hitters started to lay off the slider a little more, but Worley was able to throw the pitch for strikes and recorded a called strikeout on second baseman Joe Dillon.
For IronPigs manager Dave Huppert, while Worley's slider was good, it wasn't the most impressive thing that he saw from the young starter. "The way he located his fastball," was what Huppert deemed the most impressive part of Worley's start, but he admitted that the slider was effective. "He had a pretty good breaking ball tonight, that had good bite." The slider is a pitch that Worley has worked on over the past couple of seasons and has changed his grip on a few times before settling on how he's throwing the pitch now. "That pitch has come a long way for me this year. Last year, we changed the grip on it a few times and this seems to be the one that's working for me, so I'm sticking with it," said Worley
Of the 18 outs recorded by Worley, seven were on strikeouts, ten on groundballs and only one - the last out of his final inning - on a flyball. The flyball was well hit to right field, but Domonic Brown was able to make the catch with his back up against the fence for the final out in the sixth.
Worley left the scoreless game after six innings, but might have had a chance for a win, had the IronPigs Neil Sellers not been thrown out on a play at the plate in the third inning. He also might have had a chance to go another inning if not for a couple of good at-bats by Durham hitters who fouled off a number of pitchers, costing Worley 19 pitches to retire two batters. "They were doing a good job of fouling everything off," admitted Worley. "I went in, out, up, down and they did a good job of just fouling everything off. In the end, I got 'em, but I would have liked to do it a little bit quicker."
While Worley's overall outing was impressive, if there was one down note, it was that of the 23 batters that he faced, he was only able to throw first-pitch strikes to ten of them, which is unusual for Worley, who generally pitches ahead of hitters. "It happens," laughed Worley. "When you get that first pitch strike, it's a lot easier. If you throw a ball, it makes it easier for them and they get to see an extra pitch. If you get behind in the count, you generally get hurt in the end." For Worley, getting first pitch strikes wasn't the only battle that he fought; Worley was having trouble with both his curve and change-up, forcing him to rely on his fastball and slider. When you consider all of the things going wrong for Worley, his outing was especially impressive.
"The slider definitely helped me out, because I was running four-seem and two-seem fastballs in there and then the slider was basically my out-pitch," explained Worley.
Worley faced a pretty high-powered offense in the Durham Bulls, who came into the game ranked second in the International League in hitting. "He threw excellent tonight. Very good location on the fastball, mixed in enough breaking stuff, and did a great job here against a great ball club," said Huppert. Of course, having thrown an inning in the majors before even reaching Triple-A might have taken away some of the jitters for Worley.
Of his trip to the Phillies, Worley's route was a little confusing, at least for him. Worley was with the Reading Phillies, who were playing in Erie and when the team bus arrived back at the hotel after the game, Worley was told to stay on the bus, because manager Steve Roadcap wanted to see him back at the ball park. Not having a clue what was going on, Worley just thought he had screwed something up keeping the pitching charts during the game. Once he met with Roadcap, he found out that he wasn't in any trouble at all. Once he met up with the Phillies in St. Louis, Worley was able to throw off the bullpen mound Friday night and got a little exposure warming up in a major league bullpen in front of a big crowd. The next day, Worley was told to stay ready because he may be pitching in the game. Jose Contreras went out to pitch the eighth and Worley was told that the ninth inning was his. The bullpen attendant who opened the bullpen gate for Worley had good wishes and advice for the newest Phillie. "'The mound is straight over there about 140 feet', he told me. I was like okay, that helps," laughed Worley.