Thursday, July 21, 2011

Savery Refocused as Reliever in Lehigh Valley

A poor 2010 season on the mound for Joe Savery seemed to secure the switch for the lefty pitcher into an everyday position player. This time last season, the Phillies were preparing to completely alter the career of their former 1st round draft pick. Now, Savery is back where he started and, some say, better off than he ever was.

With increased velocity, reaching 94 MPH with his fastball in recent weeks, Savery has revamped a pitching career that was virtually in forced retirement on opening day.

After posting a 1-12 record and a 4.66 ERA mainly as a starter for Triple A Lehigh Valley last year, the Phillies changed Savery to a full-time offensive player in the latter stages of the season. Savery proceeded to bat .348 in 36 games as a hitter in 2010.

This season, playing first base, outfield and spending time as a designated hitter, Savery, a Rice University product, climbed the developmental ladder, as he had once done as a hurler, beginning in 2007 after the Phillies selected him 19th overall in the amateur draft.

In his first full season as an offensive player, the Phillies assigned Savery to Class A Advanced Clearwater to open 2011. Savery got off to a hot start with the bat in April, collecting 12 hits in his first 15 at bats with the Threshers. His offensive production cooled, but he was promoted to Double A Reading in mid-June with a line of .307/.368/.410.

Reading had pitching and offensive needs, thus the 25-year-old Savery was thrust into a dual role, continuing to bat regularly and helping the bullpen with a refined menu of pitches, as needed.

"When he came to us it was 'keep him pitching' and 'keep him hitting'," Reading manager Mark Parent said. "(But), for me, he hit like a pitcher. And when he got back on the mound, his velocity was up, his breaking ball was good. (Assistant General Manager, player development) Chuck (La Mar) and the guys took the change up away for the time being, so he could get used to spotting his fastball and throwing that breaking ball."

Upon his return to Reading, where he was a starting pitcher and was named an All-star in 2009, Savery made 6 relief outings and posted a 1.00 ERA in 9 innings of work. Most impressive of Savery's statistics was his strike out to walk ratio, during his stint with Reading. His 14 strike outs versus 0 walks in 9 innings was outstanding.

The improvements in the 6-foot-3-inch 220-pound Savery's pitching game were noticed and now he is officially back to being a pitcher, aside from an occasional pinch hit appearance, and he was promoted again, back to Lehigh Valley.

Parent, a former big league catcher, feels that there's a completely different mental approach for everyday players than there is for starting pitchers. He views the switch from pitcher to offensive player, and back again, as something that has been extremely beneficial for Savery, who has gained a new outlook on the game.

"When you go into the hitting side, playing defense and what not, it becomes more of a team oriented ballgame," Parent asserted. "You kind of get out of yourself, you're not as hard on yourself day in and day out. You don't have five days to sit around and worry about your next start or how good or bad you were in your last outing. (Savery) got out of his own way for a little bit.

"So, what he's doing is going out there, having fun, being aggressive with his fastball and putting guys away. He's like, 'The sooner I get off the field, the better'. Because now he's stood out in left field now, or been at first base and (had thoughts like), 'Come on, throw a strike!' or 'Just get this guy out!'"

And while Savery's struggles in the past have baffled and frustrated some folks around the Phillies organization, himself included, Savery has remained a likeable guy that the organization really wants to see reach his potential and succeed at the highest levels. However, despite being willing to help Savery as much as he could, Parent jokingly expressed a bit of uneasiness, when it came to the role switching Texan.

"I kind of don't like being around him too much, 'cause he's too nice. But he's a kid you pull for," Parent said.

After some doubt and a remarkable trial, over the past year, in which the Phillies used Savery in varied capacities, LaMar and the organization are pleased with the direction Savery is heading now. Back at Triple A, Savery is again one step from the dream of every minor league player and, with his newest assignment of relief pitcher and his updated pitching repertoire, it will be up to him if he can perform well enough to earn a promotion to the Majors.

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