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Stutes thriving with first-place Phillies

by: MILES KENNEDY Lake Oswego High School graduate Mike Stutes has been having a tremendous sesaon in the bullpen for the Philadelphia Phillies.

Along comes the sixth or seventh or eighth inning, and the call to the bullpen sends him on his way to the mound at Citizens Bank Park.

Then the fans greet him with a roar that sounds like a 'boo.'

'Stoooots!'

'It's pretty crazy,' Philadelphia pitcher Mike Stutes says. 'I'm not sure what the reason is or why it's happened, but it's a pretty good reception to get.'

It has happened because as a rookie, Stutes, 24, is a major part of perhaps baseball's best pitching staff on the team with the best record in the major leagues.

The former Lake Oswego High and Oregon State standout is 3-0 with six holds and a 2.63 ERA in 29 games as one of two set-up guys for closer Ryan Madson (3-1, 2.03, 16 saves in 31 games).

Madson is out until about July 15 with a hand injury, so the Phillies' other set-up man - Antonio Bastardo (3-0, 0.87, five saves in 34 games) - has been serving as the closer.

That's in backing up a starting rotation that includes Cole Hamels (9-4, 2.41), Roy Halladay (11-3, 2.44), Cliff Lee (9-6, 2.92) and the injured Roy Oswalt (4-6, 3.79).

'It's been great,' Stutes says. 'I'm fortunate to get to watch three or four of the top starters in the game on a daily basis. You learn so much every time you watch them pitch - how they prepare, how they go about their business. Having that opportunity is irreplaceable.'

Stutes has been outstanding since the Phillies called him up from their Lehigh Valley Triple-A affiliate on April 24, allowing only 16 hits with 15 walks and 28 strikeouts in 27 1/3 innings. He has given up an earned run in only six of his 29 appearances.

The 6-1, 185-pound right-hander nearly stuck with the Phillies after an audition during spring training. He has been on a fast track to the big leagues after going 7-2 with 1.42 ERA in 13 starts at the A level after signing in 2008. In 2009, Stutes and teammate Vance Worley became the first Phillies to jump to Double-A the year after they were drafted since Pat Burrell in 1999.

'I had wanted to have a chance to make it last year, but they didn't call very many guys (from the minors) in September,' Stutes says. 'After getting invited to spring training this year, my goal was to make it out of camp. I was in a situation to do that, but they decided to go another way. I figured it wouldn't be too long before I got my shot.'

'We thought a long time before we sent him back to the minor leagues,' Philadelphia manager Charlie Manuel tells reporters. 'But since he has been here, he has been really good. He is throwing better now than he did in spring training.'

Stutes is using two pitches - a four-seam fastball and a slider - and has hit 96 miles per hour on the radar gun.

'Last year I hit 97,' he says. 'It's a little higher than it was when I was at Oregon State. I'm usually in the 93-96 range now.

'Pitching out of the bullpen helps. You come in and throw hard for an inning or to a couple of batters instead of trying to last for 120 pitches.'

Stutes was a starter through his entire career until the Phillies converted him to a reliever after going 8-8 with a 4.26 ERA in 27 starts at Double-A Reading in 2009.

'It wasn't that difficult of an adjustment,' Stutes says. 'The first month or two was pretty tough. After that, I felt pretty comfortable. Once you get out there, you're still facing hitters.'

The set-up role has been just Stutes' style.

'It's fun,' he says. 'I like pitching in games that are close. I always fed off that when I was a starter. I feel pretty fortunate to be able to get into this role, especially being a rookie. I'll try to keep this role for the rest of the year and hopefully get a chance to close some day.'

Does he see himself as closer material?

'I'd like to be given the opportunity at some point, but it would be probably years down the road,' Stutes says. 'They usually don't hand the closer role to a 24-year-old when more proven guys are available.'

Stutes has been drafted three times - by the Los Angeles Dodgers in the 32nd round out of high school in 2004, by St. Louis in the ninth round after his junior year at Oregon State in 2007 and by Philadelphia in the 11th round after his senior season at OSU in 2008.

The Lake Oswego native transferred to Oregon State after his freshman year at Santa Clara, and became a key piece of the Beavers' back-to-back runs to College World Series championships. As a sophomore in 2006, Stutes was 8-2 with a 3.10 ERA and a .243 opponents' batting average. The next year, he was even better, going 12-4 with a 4.07 ERA and a .228 opponents' batting average.

Stutes then turned down a $100,000 signing bonus offer by the Cardinals to return to Oregon State for his senior season. He went 4-7 with a 5.32 ERA and a .275 opponents' batting average, and the Beavers didn't make the NCAA tournament. He wound up signing with the Phillies for a $5,000 bonus.

Does he regret that decision?

'Not at all,' Stutes says. 'I lost a pretty significant amount of signing bonus, but you don't make big money with the bonus unless you're a first- or second-round pick. My senior year, I matured a lot and became a much better pitcher. I did some things I hadn't experienced my sophomore and junior years. It set up a quicker run through the minor leagues for me.

'That's the tough part about kids signing out of high school or junior college. You have to get that experience somewhere, whether it's in the minor leagues or by playing all those games or college. I think college is the best possible situation to be in. You're having the time of your life and you're playing in the ultimate team atmosphere and you're getting your education.'

So would Stutes, who earned his degree in business administration at OSU, advise most college juniors to return for their senior seasons?

'Depends on each individual situation,' he says. 'If you're taken in the top three rounds, they're going to push you through the minor leagues, so you're probably best to sign. If you're someone who has no interest in school, yeah, go ahead and sign.

'But there are advantages to going back (for a senior season). For me, it wasn't a perfect situation to sign (after his junior season), and there really wasn't any risk that I wasn't going to get a chance as a pro, or lose a great deal of money.'

Stutes especially values the experience of playing three seasons for Oregon State coach Pat Casey.

'I've been asked a lot by (pro) players about that,' Stutes says. 'With Oregon State making the super regionals this year, I got a lot of questions about how it was, playing for Coach 'Case'. It was great.

'He was very, very intense, but there is no substitute for what you learn when you're playing for him. You learn that the only thing that matters is winning. It doesn't matter how it's done - 1-0 or 25-24. But when you walk off that field, you have to know you've done anything you can to win.

'That has really helped me get to where I am now. You can see a difference from where a guy has played. The one thing you hear is the guys from Oregon State, they're always considered the tougher guys, the big-time competitive guys. That's a direct reflection on 'Coach Case'.'

Stutes' rookie season has been 'kind of a wild ride.' The Phillies, who won the World Series in 2008 and got there in 2009, have the looks of a team that will be there again in '11.

'This is my first time around,' Stutes says. 'I don't know what it comes down to in September and October. But we have a bunch of guys who have done it.

'And our team is very close. It's one of the best team atmospheres I've been a part of. Everybody is pretty easy-going. The only reason everyone is here is to try to win. It's pretty refreshing to be on a team like that.'

In a few months, Stutes could be living his childhood dream.

'Every kid growing up, when you're playing in the backyard, you're not thinking about playing Single-A baseball,' he says. 'It's always Game 7 of the World Series.'