Friday, May 29, 2015

2012 top pick Watson nearing return following rehab and suspension

Shane W
Shane Watson, image- Jay Floyd
The six-man rotation that has been so reliable for the Class A Lakewood BlueClaws this season is facing a possible shake up in the coming week.

Barring any weather disruptions, the BlueClaws will play their 50th game of the season on Tuesday. That's also the day the Phillies' 2012 first round draft pick, Shane Watson, who is serving a 50-game suspension due to a positive banned substance test, will make his last scheduled rehab start for the organization's extended spring training team.

Watson, a right-hander, is on his way back from his second shoulder surgery and had his most recent outing on Thursday. Facing the Pirates' extended spring team, the 21-year-old threw four innings, notching two strike outs and surrendering one run. Additionally, Watson picked a runner off first base and saw his fastball velocity range from 88-93 MPH.

It was Watson's first game throwing all three of his offerings. As he has increased his innings and pitch count from appearance to appearance, the six-foot-four 200-pounder has expanded his repertoire, throwing strictly fastballs at first, adding his change up later, then finally his curve ball this week.

According to Watson, his comfort level with all three pitches is improving. Both of his strike outs on Thursday were with his curve ball. He asserts that he's working on the consistency with the location of his change up.

The California native, Watson, last pitched in regular season action in July 2013 for Lakewood, when he was sidelined with his initial shoulder ailment. At that time, in his first full pro season, he sported a 4-6 record with a 4.75 ERA and a .230 batting average against in 16 starts. Watson was initially slated to be back on the mound by mid-summer last year, but setbacks with his health required a second procedure.

Phillies director of player development Joe Jordan has stated this season that the goal is to have Watson return to Lakewood in June, once he is healthy and eligible to do so.

Five of Lakewood's six starting pitchers have ERA's at a solid 3.86 or lower. Three of those hurlers (Chris Oliver, Ranfi Casimiro and Ricardo Pinto) have marks that range from 2.93 to 3.06 after seven weeks of the season. Based on that remarkable production from the others, lefty Josh Taylor's recent numbers could leave him as the odd man out. In four May starts, the 22-year-old has tallied a 1-3 record with an 8.80 ERA and a 2.09 WHIP. Taylor was signed as and pitched as a reliever last year.

Additional time in extended spring training is a possibility for Watson, but not a likely one. The organization could also simply promote one of Lakewood's top performers up a level to Class A Advanced Clearwater to clear room, rather than move a starter to the bullpen or demote someone. Stay tuned for details on how and where the Phils make room for the 40th overall pick from the 2012 draft late next week.
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