PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — The bullpen of the Phillies has undergone quite the transformation this season. Early on they surrendered lead after lead and cost the Phillies several games. But over the last couple months the unit has turned things around, thanks in large part to the performance of home grown talents like Justin DeFratus, Jake Diekman, Ken Giles and Mario Hollands.
If the Phillies are in need of another young arm in the pen in the near future, once again, they probably don’t need to look any further than Allentown.
Tyler Knigge (which is pronounced kuh-NIGG-ee) is a 25-year-old right-hander who was a 12th round draft pick of the Phillies in 2010 out of Lewis-Clark State College in Idaho. He started 2014 with Double-A Reading and had a 2.12 ERA in 17 appearances, going 3-0 with three saves. That earned him a promotion to Triple-A Lehigh Valley where he continues to throw the ball well. In nine games with the Iron Pigs, Knigge is 1-1 with a 3.21 ERA.
“Really what it comes down to is going out and throwing strikes,” Knigge tells KYW Newsradio. “That’s what they’ve told me since day one, once you get up there you’ve got to throw strikes. I think that’s really helped me and paid off in the long run.”
Knigge is truly taking strike throwing to heart. In 14 Triple-A innings, he has yet to walk a batter while striking out 12.
“I think he’s understanding it’s a different level, maybe not being so predictable,” Lehigh Valley manager Dave Brundage says. “Understanding that you need to throw quality strikes. You can get away with a lot more at Double-A. You can get away with 94, 95, 96 in the middle of the plate. Here he is understanding that you have to pitch and you have to mix your pitches.”
Knigge does have a plus fastball, but also brings other weapons to the mound.
“I throw a sinker, slider and a change-up,” Knigge says. “Right now my strength is attacking guys. I’m not afraid to attack. If you have a fastball hitter up there, I’m not going to throw him a slider, I’m going to throw a fastball because I think my stuff is better than what he has at the plate.”
The progress up the ladder in the minors has been steady for Knigge and he says his most recent step up was the toughest.
“I think the biggest jump I’ve seen so far is between AA and AAA, absolutely,” Knigge says. “You have guys that are big league hitters, that know what they’re doing. They are looking for a specific pitch and if you give it to them and you make a mistake with that pitch they are going to make you pay for it.”
Knigge says a lesson he learned early in his pro career has really stuck with him, helping him get to where he is today.
“I remember when I was in low-A,” Knigge says. “Steve Schrenk, my pitching coach, pulled me off to the side and said, ‘Yeah, you throw hard, but it doesn’t matter because you can throw 95 down the middle and they are still going to hit it. You’ve got to get the ball down, and if you don’t, you won’t make it out of A ball.’ I think that’s the biggest lesson I’ve learned. That hurt hearing something like that, but at the same time it also made me a better baseball player.”
As for if, or the much more likely question of when, that call to the majors comes, Knigge says he can’t worry about that.
“It is tough not to think about it,” Knigge says. “I mean it’s the big leagues, and that was my dream growing up, pitching in the big leagues one day. But I need to focus on the here and the now.”
Knigge and the Iron Pigs visits Scranton/Wilkes-Barre on Monday night.
You can follow Matt on Twitter @mattleonkyw.