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July 19, 2015

Phillies notes: Giles, pitching lights out, could find himself closing games shortly

Other topics include the Phillies’ surprisingly solid defense on Saturday and a look at the minor league scoreboard

Anyone who saw Ken Giles blow up in Pittsburgh a little over a month ago understands that he brings a lot of adrenaline to the mound. Similar to many a hard-throwing reliever before his time, the 24-year-old setup man feels like he needs to pump himself up (and not like Hanz and Franz) in order to be fully effective.

“I love to be competitive, I love the challenge,” Giles said. “Everybody already knows that. Sure, there are times I’ll be a little hotheaded but sometimes you got to be a little selfish and hotheaded and kind of have that little spunk to use.”

Even though Giles gets pretty fired up to pitch the eighth inning, you can imagine he’ll turn up the intensity a couple of notches if he receives the chance to close games. And considering Jonathan Papelbon is a decent bet to get shipped out of town before the trade deadline, he may very well be tabbed to do just that.

“100 Miles Giles” battled some velocity issues earlier in the year, but as the weather has heated up, so has his fastball. Charlie Manuel famously used to call this time of year “hittin’ weather,” and in Giles’ case, it has kind of turned into “pitchin’ weather.” His average fastball went up from 95.77 mph in April to 98.08 mph so far this month per Brooks Baseball. As the velocity has gone up, so generally have the swings and misses.

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On balance, Giles is enjoying another excellent season out of the ‘pen despite the early rough spots. His ERA currently sits at 1.77 and it doesn’t appear to be going up anytime soon. Giles has been pretty unhittable in the 18.1 innings since June 3rd not including Saturday’s game: In that span, he owned a 0.98 ERA, recorded 29 strikeouts to seven walks, and opposing hitters were batting .169/.260/.185.

Ah, but the question of those pesky final three outs. While Giles elected to answer diplomatically out of respect to Papelbon — He described the prospect of closing as a “see-if-it-happens-first kind of thing” —the arrangement very much interests him. Giles wants to be the person who, in his own words, “brings the fire.” Apparently outs 25-27 are more flammable.

At the beginning of 2014, before Giles was called up to the majors and finished fourth in NL Rookie of the Year voting, he split time between Reading and Lehigh Valley. In those two brief stops, Giles received the opportunity to close on a consistent basis for the first time during his ascent up the Phillies’ system.

“When they gave me that opportunity, it felt completely normal because that’s my number one goal, to be a closer for any type team,” Giles said. It didn’t matter if it was going to be here or the minor leagues, I just wanted to be the closer, to be that cool guy.”

His manager believes he can be the cool guy.

“I think he certainly has the ability to do it,” Pete Mackanin said. “He’s got the stuff to do it. Pitching the eighth inning, although it isn’t the final three outs, it’s still a pressure cooker. He’s handled that very well.”

For now, Giles will have to settle for pitching the eighth inning, and pitching it very well. In a 3-1 victory over the Miami Marlins on Saturday night, he channeled that energy to escape a rare jam. With two outs, two runners in scoring position, and a 3-2 count on Adeiny Hechavarria, Giles climbed the ladder and uncorked, yes, a 100-mile-per-hour fastball. Hechavarria couldn’t catch up.

“It was one of those situations where I was like, ‘Just let it fly,’” he said.

Elbow trouble

When Mackanin lifted starter Chad Billingsley after five scoreless innings and only 70 pitches, it was pretty strange. Here is some evidence!

As we found out after the game, there was a reason behind the move, and it’s especially worrisome given Billingsley’s recent medical history: Mackanin said Billingsley showed “elbow symptoms” and they wanted to be cautious. According to the man himself, it was “a little tightness” he was feeling throughout the game.

“I don’t really know the extent of it right now,” Billingsley said. “I’m seeing the doctor and having him evaluate me, so I guess I’ll know more when that happens. I don’t know if he’s here tonight. Until I see him, I don’t know the extent of it.”

To state the obvious, Billingsley has had a lot of trouble keeping his right arm healthy. His 2013 and 2014 seasons were both cut short by season-ending elbow surgeries, and Billingsley missed the first month of this season after rehabbing from the second of those procedures. Then after three starts in May, a shoulder strain caused him to miss over a month.

“Anything dealing with the elbow, it’s never [good],” Billingsley said. “The antenna goes up. But just being cautious with everything I’ve been through over the last two years with the elbow surgeries, I’m just being cautious right now.”

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LEHIGH VALLEY 4, Rochester 2: Aaron Altherr hit a two-run blast in the eighth inning to break a tie and give the IronPigs (42-52) a victory. Jordan Danks also homered earlier in the game.

New Britain 5, READING 2: J.P. Crawford had a two-hit night (double, triple) and scored a run, but it wasn't enough for the Fightin Phils (50-43).

Palm Beach 7, CLEARWATER 2: Carlos Tocci was 4-5 at the plate and Mitch Walding went deep for Clearwater (52-41), but the bullpen wasted a six-inning, one-run start from Brandon Leibrandt.

Rome 7, LAKEWOOD 0: The BlueClaws (46-45) only managed five hits and starter Shane Watson surrendered five runs (four earned) in four innings.

Mahoning Valley 4, WILLIAMSPORT 1: Starter Tyler Gilbert gave up all four runs in four innings as the Crosscutters (20-8) dropped one.

Follow Rich on Twitter: @rich_hofmann