By Matt Leon
PHILADELPHIA (CBS) – The Triple AAA phase of the Major League Baseball Rule V Draft rarely garners much attention. So it went basically unnoticed back in December of 2010 when the Phillies plucked right-hander Justin Friend out of the Oakland A’s organization. But that is proving to be a shrewd move.
The 26-year-old Friend was recently promoted to AAA Lehigh Valley after one of the great runs in recent memory at AA Reading. In 24 games as the closer for the R-Phils (27 innings), Friend allowed one run. Just one. That equates to a 0.33 ERA. He won two games and saved 14 in 14 opportunities. Needless to say, the 26-year-old Friend says he has never had a stretch like that at any point in his career.
“I almost wanted to pinch myself a little bit,” Friend recently told KYW Newsradio. “People were always asking, ‘How you doing it?’ I don’t really know how I was doing it. I was just going out there, having fun, and trying to keep putting them up and keep giving my team opportunities to win. That’s probably the longest run I’ve had. I gave up one and I can remember the whole sequence of giving up that one, but you don’t remember the thirty other innings that you didn’t give one up. No, I never had a run like that.”
Listen to Matt Leon’s interview with Justin Friend:
In Oakland’s system, Friend had gotten as high as Triple-A for a single game back in 2009. He had had some success, but nothing like he’s experienced in the Phillies system here in 2012. He says the Phillies showing confidence in him right away was really big for him.
“That was the thing last year in spring training, the pitching coordinator came to me and asked me if I had ever closed. Of course, in college I closed a little bit, but mostly a starter my career in college and kind of a bridge guy – 7th, 8th inning guy – to get to the closer. But I never was ‘the guy’ in the 9th inning. Told that you are going to get the ball, that you are going to be the guy in that situation. So I think when they came to me and they said that, it was a big confidence booster because that’s a big role for you to be put in – to close games out. So to get that opportunity to do that here with the Phillies, was a great opportunity. Hopefully, they keep coming along and keep being successful at it and go from there.”
In his two years in the Phillies organization, Friend now has saved 43 games. He says command has been key, especially this season.
“Just commanding the fastball to both sides of the plate. Being able to throw a breaking ball behind in the count. And also, the third pitch, the change-up, has been a good pitch for me this year. Used it a little bit here (at Lehigh Valley), but mostly in Reading was just putting guys in play early, not really trying to pitch for the strikeout, just getting off the mound as soon as possible.”
Friend is not found near the top of any list of top prospects in the Phillies system. But you have to imagine that the way he has been throwing the ball has turned some heads in the organization.
“You would hope so, but the only thing that you can do is keep putting up numbers and hopefully somebody sees.”
In four games since his promotion to Lehigh Valley, Friend is 1-0 with a save and a 4.76 ERA in 5 2/3 innings.
You can follow Matt on Twitter @mattleonkyw.